Don’t Believe These Tired Myths About Ending The 18-Year War In Afghanistan By Daniel DePetris for The Federalist
After 18 years, thousands of casualties, and a price tag that could be as high as $1 trillion, the United States has done all it can in Afghanistan. Instead of finding excuses to stay, it’s time to come home.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, has endured a lot of pressure in the last week. Former U.S. ambassadors, Fox News pundits, and think tank analysts alike have denounced his draft agreement in full without knowing what is in the final document.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s advisers have already expressed that the terms of the accord “need serious debate and revision.” Words such as “surrender,” “defeat,” and “abandonment” are being tossed in the air as if the United States has an obligation to serve as the Afghan government’s defenders in perpetuity.
Khalilzad and his boss, President Trump, will feel even more heat as additional details become available to the public. Trump’s cancellation on September 7 of a direct meeting between himself, the Taliban, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is a blinking red light that the president is increasingly experiencing second-thoughts about the entire process. So it is as good a time as any to reexamine the usual myths that will resurface in editorials and television segments over the ensuing weeks as opponents try to tank any agreement that could conclude U.S. involvement in this 18-year war.
Myth 1: The U.S. Is Signing Its Own Defeat
Career Ambassador Ryan Crocker and others have categorized a negotiated withdrawal from Afghanistan as a humiliating retreat à la Vietnam, 1973. The argument is meant to strike a chord in American policymakers who are concerned with defending their reputations in the history books and wary of being on the wrong side of the Beltway-fueled “Who lost Afghanistan?” debate.
But using the word “defeat” and “Afghanistan” in the same sentence is based on emotion rather than fact. In reality, the United States achieved its sole national security objective in the South Asian country as far back as early 2002, when a combination of U.S. air power, intelligence assets, and special operations forces in coordination with anti-Taliban militias swept the Taliban from Kabul, obliterated al-Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure, and forced Osama Bin Laden into hiding.
To characterize withdrawal now as “losing” the war is a simplistic and inaccurate narrative, which totally loses sight of the central reason the United States used military force in Afghanistan in the first place: to punish the organization responsible for 9/11 and send a message to anyone who would even think about partnering with such a group in the future.
Myth 2: The Taliban Will Welcome Al-Qaeda Back
A core principle of the emerging deal is a Taliban commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using territory under its control to plan and launch attacks against the American people. Many people in Washington don’t buy the premise. The Taliban and al-Qaeda, they argue, are deeply linked after more than 20 years of cooperation. Moreover, the thinking goes, the Taliban is fundamentally untrustworthy, which suggests it would be the height of folly to take Taliban promises seriously.