Amid consistent signaling that the administration will deploy several thousand additional soldiers to the Afghan war zone, inability to agree on a strategy has brought about discussion of a troop withdrawal, an option long thought to be beyond the pale for Washington policymakers.
“It’s a macro question as to whether the U.S., this administration, and this president are committed to staying,” an anonymous senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t work unless we are there for a long time, and if we don’t have the appetite to be there a long time, we should just leave. It’s an unanswered question.”
The exploration of the option reflects a divide within the White House, with the president and some top advisers hesitant to deploy new troops without a clear path forward.
During a visit to the Pentagon earlier this month, Trump appeared to back off his commitment to send more soldiers, answering “We’ll see” after being asked about the deployment.
While authorities have already been delegated to Defense Secretary James Mattis to send up to 3,900 troops to Afghanistan, these recent developments have sent mixed signals about how the administration wants to proceed.
Another option, reportedly favored by chief strategist Steve Bannon, includes the use of private mercenaries to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan. There are currently some 29,000 private contractorsoperating in the country, with about 10 percent filling security roles.
Erik Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and founder of Blackwater Worldwide—the infamous military contractor at the heart of a grisly 2004 ambush in Fallujah, Iraq—has already advised the administration on this plan.
In May, Prince laid out his views in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, describing the Afghan war, the longest-running conflict in American history, as “an expensive disaster for America,” and advocating “an East India Company approach” that would employ private fighters to bolster a smaller U.S. Special Forces presence in the country. The administration’s fondness of this approach is unclear, however, as Defense Secretary Mattis refused to include the plan among the options currently under review.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s National Security Adviser, in early June urged for another troop surge in Afghanistan, contrary to the “East India Company” approach, as well as the proposal to withdraw. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Michelle Flournoy and think-tanker Richard Fontaine argued for a similar policy in a piece at the National Interest published earlier this month, highlighting the contingent of “surgers” who wish to see yet another escalation of the war.
President Obama in 2009 oversaw an Afghan surge that put U.S. troop levels at their peak at around 100,000, but still failed to achieve anything close to victory. Given that prior policy failure, isn’t clear what another 4,000—or even 10,000—new soldiers could do to fix the deteriorating situation in the country.
According to a report issued by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan government controls less than 60 percent of the country, while the Taliban holds a large, growing, swath of territory.
After 16 years of failure, it is time for the United States to simply pack up and leave. It appears a window of opportunity has opened to extricate ourselves from the conflict, the administration would be well-advised to take it.
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Contributed by Will Porter of The Daily Sheeple.