Afghanistan

The Trump Plan for Afghanistan, “Graveyard of Empires”

Trump told his advisers that the restaurant, Manhattan’s elite ’21’ Club, had shut its doors for a year and hired an expensive consultant to craft a plan for a renovation. After a year, Trump said, the consultant’s only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen. Talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result. The tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Some people tell that story like it is something Trump should be ashamed to say.  I think he summed a huge problem with America.  We are just not willing to listen to people, make any changes, or take a risk that doesn’t come from the advice from somebody twelve steps above us.  This desire stems from a crippling fear of being wrong.  Insecurity.

There is simply no more room for insecurity for America’s oversea adventures.  Our tepid approach to war has done nothing but further tangles us in political snares that will drown us.  Unfortunately for the rest of America insecure people gravitate to politics.  It’s just the one job where your not judged on performance but on the make believe your able to convince others is the truth.

“Oh you mean you tried to solve world hunger?  That’s good enough, here a raise and an eight year extension!”  Says the American people to our crappy politicians.

How else do you describe the disaster that is our foreign policy?  In the past 16 years we have vacillated between engage/don’t engage withdraw our troops expand our troops when it comes to the very serious conflicts we’re in.  I hear President Obama senior advisor was a magic 8 ball which really explains our bipolar foreign policy.

About half of the American people are not aware of how critical our position is.  But that’s what happens when you close your eyes and cover your ears for eight years while your President starts multiple new wars while losing the two he inherited.  Thankfully President Trump is holding our bureaucrats and generals accountable for their failures.

President Trump will announce his Afghanistan strategy on the night of the eclipse

We are losing this war and from my view from the bottom I don’t know the United States gets the hell out of this mess with how suffering some consequences.

The Afghan war is the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides.  The Taliban now controls more territory since the United States overthrew the terrorist group in 2001.

Worse yet, after losing Mosul and vast territories in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is probably hoping to move to Afghanistan.  Just what we need, a huge networking event for terrorist that hate America.  Maybe they’ll hate each other too and just save us the trouble of having to deal with them.

In its latest attack on a village in the northern province of Sar-e Pul, described as a war crime by the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, government officials said ISIL joined forces with the Taliban in the brutal killing of more than 50 civilians, mainly Shia Hazaras.

President Trump definitely faces a challenge in solving the Afghan dilemma. The commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan may find himself replaced.  During a July meeting, Trump repeatedly suggested that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford replace Gen. John Nicholson because he is not winning the war.

Trump rightly assessed that the new plan was a loser. But the status quo is a loser, too. The Pentagon is set to spend $48 billion in fiscal year 2017 on operations in Afghanistan alone, and wants another $50 billion for next year.

Trump’s national security team has been trying for months to come up with a new strategy he can approve.  His predecessor believed  Afghanistan was the right war, and Iraq the wrong war, ramped up the U.S. presence in 2011 to 100,000 troops.  He then changed his mind years later and left the country with a fraction of forces.  The U.S. currently has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

There is a strong puch by conservatives in the Whitehouse to increase the level of troops in Afghanistan.  They do this however with no clear definition of victory, yet an unfailing belief that we just need more time and more troops and the “war” will sure to be a win.

Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the Washington Post (WaPo) reports that the current U.S.-Afghan war is framed around a four-year plan to degrade the Taliban this is unlikely to “yield significant results until its later stages.”

How convenient, they need more than the 16 years they’ve already had and we can’t judge results until years later.

Do we stay or do we go?

Alexander the Great, Bābur, the famous Mughal Dynasty founder, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and even the Arab al Qaeda terror network have all tried to control Afghanistan at one time and to one degree or another.  No country has ever succeeded and the Soviet Union collapsed in their 10 year effort. Yet Washington bureaucrats claim that America will succeed.

No matter what strategy Trump delivers, I would greatly like to have some parameters on what success in the Afghanistan looks like.  What could possibly justify staying in that region?

According to Breitbart there are three reasons for remaining:

  1. Preventing terror groups from establishing safe havens and launching attacks on the U.S. homeland. – Small force
  2. Preventing Afghanistan-based terror organization from destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan. -Small force
  3. Projecting a threat into Iran that would deter the regime aggression and encourage dissidents. -large force

That leaves two options, a small force or a large force.  Whether that small force is the force we currently have in Afghanistan or the large force that the Pentagon has been begging Trump to deploy.

American military commanders have argued during the monthslong policy assessment that the additional troops would enable the United States to reverse gains made by the Taliban and militant groups like the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, the Islamic State in Khorasan.

McMaster and allies on the National Security Council reportedly support sending 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan and hitting the Taliban harder in order to drive them to the negotiating table.

Of course the spokesman for the RINO neocons has a plan that mimics exactly what the Pentagon is already advocating for.  McCain proposed an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act advocating increased airstrike availability, ramping up training for Afghan security forces and sending more U.S. troops for counterterrorism operations.

Off the battlefield, he also suggested boosting diplomatic pressure by working with some of Afghanistan’s neighbors, making U.S. aid contingent on the government hitting anti-corruption benchmarks and putting pressure on Pakistan to not aid terrorist groups.  So more meaningless bureaucratic benchmarks that cannot possibly be measured.

Golly for some reason I just have no faith in a military that has mired us into a war for over 16 years!  I can’t for the life of me understand why Trump would listen to any of them.  It is abundantly clear that there is some issues in our military.

The USS John McCain, a destroyer warship equipped with guided missiles, collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore.

The collision marks the second time in two months a U.S. warship has collided with another ship in the Pacific Ocean near the Asian continent. In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship near Japan, killing seven sailors on the ship’s crew.

So why should we listen to the same war bureaucrats and reward them with more troops?  Trump could really cause a stir if he withdrew completely.

Just kidding, that is not likely to happen (though if it does I will run around naked in the streets laughing hysterically!).  United States has gone walking through the bog and found its foot stuck in the swamp.  If we leave it is almost guaranteed that the United States supported government will disintegrate and the Taliban will gain control of Afghanistan again.

The United States, China, Russia, and Pakistan all share the same concerns

United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan met in Kabul in February to discuss ways of moving forward on peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The Taliban have made themselves quite comfortable in Afghanistan’s neighboring country.  In recently issued reports, the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon have accused Pakistan of willingly serving as a safe-haven for the Taliban and its affiliates, including the deadly Haqqani Network.

The United States will withhold $300 million in military aid from Pakistan unless more is done to stop Haqqani militants targeting Afghan and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  Pakistani media reported Thursday an upcoming payment from the United States was suspended.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said neighboring Pakistan has instigated an “undeclared war of aggression” against his nation after repeated bombings in Kabul in the past week, including the deadliest attack on the capital in 16 years.

Ghani’s accusation signal the difficulty NATO and Afghan forces have in defeating the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which have long been said to enjoy safe haven within Pakistan.

Then our consummate frenemies are also worried about the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan.  The Taliban has had a history of being a thorn in the the side of Iran. Iran nearly went to war with the Taliban when their militias notoriously killed 11 Iranian diplomats and an Iranian government journalist in fighting in 1998.

Or maybe a United States withdrawal will embolden Iran and allow them to fill in the space left by the US sized hole in Afghanistan’s heart?

Over the past decade and a half, the United States has taken out Iran’s chief enemies on two of its borders, the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  What a perfect opportunity for them!  Iran already seems well on its way to an Iraq takeover, maybe Afghanistan is next?The Iranians have spent the last several years currying favor with the Shiite tribes in Afghanistan in preparation.

Iran firmly believes that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Russia, Pakistan, and Iran are reportedly lending military aid to the Taliban, claiming that they are helping the group fight its rival ISIS-K.  The situation is messy and America might not be lucky enough for a complete withdrawal with out serious consequences.

There are two other American rivals have a stake in the fate of Afghanistan.

China purchased mineral rights in Afghanistan a decade ago, an investment the U.S. supported at the time. Beijing has since had teams mining copper outside of Kabul.  China (shares a border with Afghanistan) has deployed military troops in the war-ravaged country in response to the ongoing chaos and out of concern of U.S.-N.A.TO withdrawal.  They too fear instability along their border.

Meanwhile, the Russians have gotten increasingly involved in Afghanistan over the past several years, out of fear that instability in Afghanistan could leech into their barely stable southern periphery (which is overwhelmingly Muslim). Russia has intensified close contacts with the Taliban, and has worried about the increasing presence of ISIS in the country.

What a mess, clearly withdrawal is just not likely, so how about the third way?

The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project.

The plan floated by Erik Prince founder of Blackwater security firm, involves a new approach reminiscent of the British and their East India Company.  According to Prince, contractors would train and live with Afghani soldiers with a central Viceroy acting with complete authority to direct development activities and a privatized East India Company model for securing key areas to bolster economic growth.

Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents.

Military Times, which reported on Prince’s plan to use private contractors in Afghanistan, also noted in that same article that Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has refused to meet with the former Blackwater CEO.

Yet according to NBC News, President Trump wants to replace Gen. Nicholson out of frustration with how the Afghanistan campaign is going.  Because he’s done so well.

Some may find the use of contractors a turn off, however there’s already nearly 26,000 private contractors there. That number would go down to about 5,000, Prince told Breitbart News. “The American troop levels would go from 9,000 down to 2,000. That’s hardly a privatization of the war. That’s a rationalization and an ending of the war.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, in Iraq and Afghanistan, private contractors “comprised approximately 50% of DOD’s combined contractor and uniformed personnel workforce in country” over the past 15 years.

He points out that the U.S. Special Forces essentially did the same for the Afghan special forces, turning 17,000 troops into a highly capable force.  Prince would replicate the special forces model for the all of Afghanistan’s security forces. He claims that his approach would cost “20 percent of the $48 billion being spent in Afghanistan this year.”

Many people in the Government are aghast that Prince would take this opportunity to cmd exploit it in order to turn a profit.  Erik Prince doesn’t seem to care:

If someone is doing that, saving the customer money, is making a profit so bad?…And let me flip that on its head even more. Before anyone throws that accusation, I think they should interview all the former generals, all the former Pentagon generals, and all the boards they serve on, and all their recommendations … advocating for the Pentagon $50 billion approach to continue on like we’ve been doing for the last 16 years. Which one is it going to be? I’m happy to have that debate.

He makes a strong point, even Bannon seemed to agree.  It’s not likely however, if Trump were to really push Princes plan we would see an outcry from not only the media, but even Trump’s team of generals.  I suspect his base would be thrilled, because at least this plan is a precursor for America leaving Afghanistan once and for all.

So why are government folks so set on remaining?

There is a reason that countries have tried numerous times to conquer Afghanistan.  The country has a wealth of natural resources.  Only they’re resources with no infrastructure to extract them in a land-locked country, surrounded by countries hostile to the United States.

Ever since a United States Geological Survey study a decade ago identified deposits later estimated to have a potential value of as much as $1 trillion, both Afghan and foreign officials have trumpeted the reserves as a likely key to economic independence for Afghanistan.

As well as deposits of gold, silver and platinum, Afghanistan has significant quantities of iron ore, uranium, zinc, tantalum, bauxite, coal, natural gas and significant copper – a particular draw given the dearth of rich new copper mines globally.

President Donald Trump is said to be eyeing Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to help pay for a 16-year war and reconstruction efforts that have already cost $117 billion.  How likely is this to be done when we already haven’t been able to do this in the last 16 years?  I guarantee it’s no for any morality purposes.

 In the case of large, public sector investment, the situation would be different – however, there would still be the problem of building up logistics and export links…I reckon it would still likely take years to get a meaningful large-scale operation going- Leigh Fogelman, director at merchant bank Hannam & Partners in London

Plus we’d have to contend with China who has a 30-year lease on the Mes Aynak copper mine bought for around $3 billion in 2008 but, although the Taliban has explicitly declared that it will not target it, the project has been plagued by delays due to contractual wrangling.

Further the US has raised just $18 million from mining revenues and the government’s own projections now do not see them exceeding the $1 billion mark before 2029.  That compares with security spending of $4.6 billion this year, equivalent to almost a quarter of the total budget.

Then there is the elephant in the room:  Opium.

President Donald Trump is officially declaring the opioid crisis a “national emergency.”  Deaths from opium addiction are hitting American’s like a disease.  Afghanistan is the world supplier of opium.

The Taliban made headlines for having “dramatically ended the country’s massive opium trade” after the leader of the fundamentalist group had declared the substance to be un-Islamic. At the time, Afghanistan’s opium was used to produce 75 percent of the world’s heroin.

 

Security map of poppy cultivation
Security map of Afghanistan, as you can see the places with the highest risks are those with poppy fields

The opium market made a dramatic comeback immediately following the U.S. invasion in October 2001. Not only was the opium trade restored, it surged drastically – rising from a production level of 185 tons under the Taliban (before the production ban) to 3,400 tons in 2002.

Afghanistan’s opium is now used to produce 90 percent of the world’s heroin. This increase has been directly overseen by U.S. forces, who openly guard Afghanistan’s poppy fields. Indeed, during that same time, the U.S. government claims to have spent $8.4 billion on counternarcotic programs within Afghanistan.

The onset of this epidemic coincided with the U.S.’ occupation of Afghanistan as, between 2002 and 2013, U.S. heroin use jumped by 63 percent, reaching a 20-year high. Heroin overdoses quadrupled in the U.S. within that same timeframe.

But we can’t just burn the fields and stop all opium production.  Afghanistan’s whole economy is opium production.  To simply eradicate drugs, without first preparing for a substitute Afghan agriculture, would impose intolerable strains on an already ravaged rural society whose only significant income flow at this time derives from opium.

When the the Taliban reduced drug production (from 4600 tons to 185 tons), Afghanistan was left a hollow shell.  Between Afghan dependency and Deep State dependency, we’re guaranteed to stay in Afghanistan for some time.

According to NPR, Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech  outside Washington which follows months of deliberation with top U.S. commanders, political advisers and even enlisted veterans of the nearly 16-year war.

And it doesn’t look good for conservatives in my book.  It will just be a continuation plus a slight surge minus a deadline.  In other words nothing he campaigned on.  I’m willing to hear him out though, it means a lot that he is going to announce it to the American people and not just do it under the raider.  Who knows, maybe the Media is all wrong and Trump will come through in the end.

The presidency by its nature lives in a bubble. When you fill it with former general officers, you’re going to get that stream of advice. And so tonight, I would predict, sadly, that we will hear more of the same of the last 16 years and, sadly, exactly what the president campaigned against last year in the presidential election. –Erik Prince

What do you think?  Trump seems to like creative strategies do you think he will try something new in Afghanistan?

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