Afghanistan is a case study in the collapse of American geostrategy. Time to pull up stakes.

Two decades of forever war in Afghanistan stand as bleak testament to the state of America’s strategic thinking.

The tactics and operations, devised and executed by our combatants, have been a marvel to friend and enemy. But tactics and operations are not strategy. The strategy, embraced by both parties, has been disastrous to the nation.

It’s beyond time to leave Afghanistan.

The original war planning after the 2001 attacks on us was nothing short of brilliant. But if there was a desired end state for Afghanistan apart from meting out kinetic justice to those behind the September 11 attacks and their Taliban supporters, that end state never occurred.

The desired end state certainly wasn’t to fight and die, only to return Afghanistan to a victorious Taliban. Or to hand a strategic victory to the mullahs in Iran, who never paid for the IED proxy war they waged against our forces. Or to build the infrastructure for Communist China to mine and export Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.

But that is what the strategy-free forever war in Afghanistan has achieved.

The excuses for staying? More of the same: We aren’t finished nation-building yet. Afghan women will suffer if we pull up stakes after twenty years. Nation-building was the one thing our country’s leaders promised us that we would never do. Yet it’s practically the only excuse for staying.

That excuse is not worth a single American dollar, let alone an American life.

The strategic objective of 2001 – to kill Osama bin Laden and as many of his al Qaeda loyalists and Taliban supporters – was achieved long ago (even though bin Laden was being sheltered by our “allies” in Pakistan). Actual destruction of the Taliban was never achieved, if it was even a strategic objective at all. To say nothing of its financial backers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and elsewhere.

Afghanistan is not a place of America’s vital national interests. Apart from executing post-9/11 objectives, it never has been. It never will be.

Even it was, we have succeeded in empowering the Iranian mullahs and the Chinese Communist Party in a place where we could have denied them influence, if it was worth doing so in the first place.

The Defense Department doesn’t even define “victory” is not defined in its 361-page Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. The word doesn’t even appear in passing. And while the word “enemy” is used 122 times in the Dictionary’s latest edition, it no longer has a definition of its own. The volume used to define “enemy combatant,” but the term has disappeared.

So if enemy and victory are no longer military and associated terms, according to the Pentagon, why are we still in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan has become a huge industry for American contractors who otherwise would have no other job. They depend on a continuation of the forever war. It isn’t just military contractors; it’s the colossal network of nation-building contractors with the US Agency for International Development and other entities. It has failed to deliver value.

Privatizing the war in Afghanistan to cut costs and eliminate a troop presence, as some had proposed, was a good idea years ago. The concept still has value, but not in that country. With no US vital interests at stake, and a disordered political climate in Washington, Afghanistan is not the place to try something as new as privatization of combat operations.

Afghanistan is not a unified country. It is constantly at war with itself. Its neighbors take advantage of the country’s ethnic and tribal divisions and do so far more skillfully and cynically than the United States ever could.

Uzbeks will take care of Afghan Uzbeks, Tajiks will take care of Afghan Tajiks, Turkmens for Turkmen Afghans, and so on. Sadly, the Pakistanis will “take care” of the Afghan Pashtuns and others. Let them. This is their tribal way, quite apart from British Empire-invented boundaries that we have killed and died to enforce.

We should help empower the Uzbeks and Tajiks if we can. Even extend our new friend India an opportunity to empower itself better in the region if it wants to leverage itself against Pakistan and China. But that isn’t our fight.

Our orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan should include the key Afghan civilians who were loyal to us (not merely cooperative with us, but loyal) who wish to relocate to the United States or elsewhere with their families. Their number should be limited and the criteria strict.

The tacticians and operators in Afghanistan performed brilliantly, constantly adapting, learning from mistakes, and innovating.

Not so for the civilian and military strategists who brought us to ruin. They brought the United States and its faithful allies and partners into the failure we face today.

Afghanistan is a metaphor for the total collapse of American geostrategic innovation. The so-called strategists betrayed the actual warfighters. Time to get out and understand how and why.

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Author: J. Michael Waller

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