Trapped in Afghanistan Between Obama and the Taliban

Obama plays a cynical game with the lives of American soldiers.

us-solidersNever before has an administration been so casual about putting American troops in harm’s way to protect a politician’s approval ratings.

American forces were supposed to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but in a covert acknowledgement that Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq was a disaster, that isn’t happening.

Afghanistan has been Obama’s bloodiest war and his most neglected war. It’s a war that hardly appears in major papers anymore, but while in terms of damage done Iraq and Libya may be Obama’s biggest disasters, in terms of American lives lost there’s no question that Afghanistan was his worst war.

Obama never had a strategy for Afghanistan. As best as anyone could determine he made a major commitment to it to provide political cover for his Iraq withdrawal. Once he committed to Afghanistan, he had no idea what to actually do there except get a lot of Americans killed while trying to appease the “moderate” Taliban who turned out not to exist despite Qatar’s best efforts to manufacture them.

Since Al Qaeda was a major threat in Iraq (a threat that eventually became ISIS) and Obama needed to disguise his withdrawal from Iraq by blaming Bush for being too weak on national security (a difficult trick for an anti-war lefty), he falsely claimed that Bush had neglected fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

There was just one problem, Al Qaeda had largely been broken in Afghanistan and had scattered to other conflicts. There were a handful of Al Qaeda fighters left. There was certainly nothing that required a major troop surge to handle. There was nothing for American soldiers to do there except die.

Bush had gone into Afghanistan with a plan to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. Obama dusted off that same plan without caring as to whether or not there were even any Al Qaeda in Afghanistan while mixing it together with Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. If nothing else the end result was bound to be Bush’s fault.

Obama went into Afghanistan as a distraction. Unable to make decisions about the war, he forced the commanders to embarrass him by shaking him down for troops. Obama responded by lashing out and replacing commanders the way that losing teams replace coaches. It was an ugly spectacle that wrecked morale and set the tone for a destructive and contentious relationship with the military.

American soldiers were thrown into battle without being allowed to win. They weren’t fighting a war for territory, but for hearts and minds. It was a senseless strategy that threw away the lives of American soldiers in the hopes of winning a local popularity contest against the Taliban.

The rules of engagement focused on preventing Afghan civilian casualties in a war where the other side wore no uniforms. Air support was denied. The odds between ISAF and the Taliban were evened out. And a lot of lives were lost. More American soldiers died in Afghanistan during one term of Obama than had been killed during the entire Bush presidency.

The plan to split the Taliban into moderate and extreme wings by making them unpopular failed miserably. Everything since then has been a holding pattern. The number of casualties has dropped with the actual fighting. American soldiers are still there not to win or even to fight, but to keep Obama from looking bad in case anything goes wrong.

Obama signed on to a troop surge in Afghanistan to cover for his disastrous move in Iraq. Now the troops are staying on to avoid the spectacle of the Taliban overrunning the country ISIS style. Afghanistan has never been an actual priority for Obama. It has always been a way for him to deal with the political consequences of his decisions in Iraq.

Now the war has ground down to its predictable final stage in which the American presence is renamed as advisory even while combat operations continue.

Obama can’t leave Afghanistan because of the political consequences. But he still has no plan for Afghanistan and it’s the generals who are once again pushing him to have a strategic plan that protects American lives and accomplishes something useful instead of a political agenda that protects his own approval rating.

As J.E. Dyer, a retired Naval Intelligence officer, pointed out, “The generals… want to be proactive in defending their troops against terrorist threats. They don’t want to just wait – hunkered down on bases, or exposed and vulnerable while they’re out supporting the Afghan national forces – for terrorists to find American troops and attack them.”

But Obama has achieved what he sees as the best of both worlds, a troop presence with low casualty levels that provides him with all the political cover he needs, but with none of the negatives of flag-draped caskets. The official word is that the United States is assisting and advising, it’s helping stabilize the government of Afghanistan and those are safe buzzwords that few can possibly object to.

When it came to Afghanistan, Obama always wanted to be seen doing something. His motives were political. His objectives in Afghanistan were not those of national security, but domestic politics.

Obama had an actual objective, regime change, in Libya, but he didn’t even have that much in Afghanistan. Instead he constantly framed the war in terms of fighting a phantom Al Qaeda enemy. And since the enemy didn’t exist he could easily claim to have beaten it while ignoring the rise of ISIS in Iraq that so many Americans had died trying to prevent.

Now Obama is stuck in Afghanistan because he’s too afraid of the political fallout of leaving.

The only lesson that Obama learned from his disastrous withdrawal from Iraq was that it was safer not to withdraw. Instead American soldiers are trapped between Obama’s approval ratings and the Taliban with no mission left to accomplish except to avoid attracting attention to themselves by dying or killing.

There is no longer a plan to deal with the Taliban. The idea that Afghanistan will retain a stable government is implausible. Even the idea that its military can take the weight of a serious assault is also unlikely. But Obama wants all of that to be someone else’s problem. He is passing on Afghanistan as a hot potato to his successor so that someone else will have to take the blame for Afghanistan.

Obama’s actions in Afghanistan tell the story of his ugly disregard for national security and the lives of our soldiers. The surge was sold using a lie about an Al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan that no longer existed. Now the presence of American forces is being passed off as advisory when what that really means is that Americans will be under fire, but unstable to set the terms on which they meet the enemy.

After all this time Americans deserve the truth. If American soldiers are going to be in harm’s way, they should have a mission and the ability to accomplish it.

Those are two things that they never had under Obama.

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