Four and a half years ago I offered the Trump administration an offramp for the continuous loop of failure America faced in Afghanistan. A similar package was previously suggested to Team Obama and finally to Team Biden in January this year.
Sadly, the administrations’ set of “credentialed” experts rejected a common-sense rationalization for letting US troops depart. This summer’s graphic self-immolation of American credibility was the result. It didn’t have to be this way.
A few days after the 9-11 attack, President George W Bush met with his National Security cabinet to plan retribution against al Qaeda. While the Pentagon smoldered, the Department of Defense (DoD) offered airstrikes and a delay of six months for a plodding mechanized invasion of Afghanistan via Pakistan.
The Central Intelligence Agency countered with an immediate unconventional warfare approach using a handful of CIA and Special Forces personnel backed by airpower. Clearly that worked and within days al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts were literally running for their lives.
Within eight months, conventional US forces took over and replicated the Soviet occupation plan of the 1980s while fused to a futile cosplay diplomatic exercise focused on nation-building where none had ever existed before.
This voyage took America on a wasteful fool’s errand thrice costlier than the Marshall plan that actually rebuilt postwar Europe. America and all our technological prowess were defeated by illiterate tribesmen armed with weapons designed in the 1940s.
The US military built the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to mirror itself, reinforcing a nonexistent central government. The DoD rotated its personnel in-country at least 33 times during the 20-year failure while rotating commanders 18 times.
They never once changed personnel or deployment policies to address the dual conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan. From the high-water mark of mid-2002, the reach and control of Kabul steadily waned as the Taliban rolled up more and more terrain.
For years, the Taliban would lay siege to a government outpost and apply steady pressure. The inept government forces failed to deliver the basics of resupply, medevac or close air support.
The Afghan personnel would resort to phoning live TV news broadcasts pleading for help to no avail. The unit, usually unpaid for months, short on food, medicine, ammunition and fuel because senior officers had sold the supplies off, surrendered hoping to spare their lives.
The “smart” people in Washington wonder why the Afghan military collapsed while ignoring the rampant corruption rotting the ANSF throughout. The SIGAR (special inspector general) well reported the systemic corruption, but no one in ANSF under DoD tutelage had actually been punished for decades.
An alternative to this continuous loop of failure was offered to the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations that cost less than 5% of previous annual expenditures. A small stay-behind force of privately contracted Special Operations veterans would have attached long term to each Afghan battalion. They would live, train and, when necessary, fight alongside their Afghan brothers.
Building an Afghan air force from a 90% illiterate population was always going to outlast America’s patience. The right private contractors supporting in the field would have kept the airpower fighting and combat logistics flowing for the Afghans.
This total absence of financial or operational accountability marks a new low in American foreign policy efforts. Of course, any actual real private sector investment must stay within budget and execute upon deliverables.
America’s 20-year deluge of cash enhanced the worst aspects of Afghan culture. The real symbol of successful investment is permanence and America’s 20 years of “investment” shriveled within days.
This failure in Afghanistan was avoidable and empowers America’s rivals and enemies. Our allies witness the abandonment of our citizens and friends and question our reliability. Just because we choose to stop fighting doesn’t mean the war is over.
America needs to regain its bedrock position of deterrence across the full spectrum of conflict or our way of life is in jeopardy. We deficit spend like a drunkard, subsidizing our generous welfare state.
Our deficits are enabled by the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, underpinned by the veneer of American military supremacy. American credibility literally subsidizes our way of life.
The multi-decade failure of our national security “elites,” both uniformed and civilian, must be held to account. We cannot afford another decade of these failures. More serious people must be empowered to deter those foreign elements who threaten our way of life. Our enemies must realize there are real consequences to their actions.
Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution includes clear guidance on issuing Letters of Marque and Reprisal, which were well utilized in our early history. Congress and the executive branch should use this tool again to unleash our latent private sector.
The routine foreign-hosted cyber-piracy attacks recently endured by America can be countered by our own “cyber privateers.”
Like the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which pacified the American West, America’s private sector can hunt, disrupt and even destroy these foreign-hosted predators. We should place a large financial bounty for the disruption or destruction of enemy-sponsored microwave-type directed energy weapons.
In the last six years, these unknown assailants caused permanent injuries to hundreds of US personnel operating in Havana, Vienna, New Delhi, Bogota and even Washington DC. Our opponents Russia, China and Iran have embraced hybrid warfare, seamlessly blending their national force with non-attributable civilian efforts.
America should unleash its latent private capabilities for partnership with countries wishing to end the scourge of Islamic terrorism, narco-terrorism, state-sponsored drug trades and to deter the resource hegemony pursued by China.
America’s private sector can also build real host nation security capacity across the Pacific Rim including Taiwan to deter aggression without the politics of sending US troops.
The reflection on what went wrong in Afghanistan will go on for some time, but a reminder from Winston Churchill is appropriate: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
Once in a while, we have to get it right or all credibility and deterrence are lost. We are at that point now.