With Afghanistan Surge, Donald Trump Just Took Ownership of the Forever War

Monday’s announcement shows Trump will continue the same failed strategies of his predecessor.

Seelai Popal August 23, 2017

Donald Trump announced a troop increase in Afghanistan at Fort Myers in Virginia August 21. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pres­i­dent Trump’s August 21 speech about his strat­e­gy for the war in Afghanistan sound­ed eeri­ly famil­iar. First, stand­ing before mem­bers of the mil­i­tary at Fort Myer in Vir­ginia, he laud­ed the vig­i­lance” and sac­ri­fice” of the U.S. armed forces. Then, as if we need­ed a reminder, he quick­ly brought up the hor­rors of 911, and the breed­ing ground from which the ter­ror­ists came 16 years ago: Afghanistan. The for­mat of his open­ing sim­i­lar enough to Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2009 address that, before Trump got any fur­ther, it was evi­dent where his speech was head­ed: He was to con­tin­ue, by send­ing more troops, to esca­late the Afghanistan War.

Since Trump took office, the U.S. military has dropped almost 2,000 air strikes in Afghanistan.

In 2009, in a speech like Trump’s, Oba­ma announced he would be send­ing an addi­tion­al 30,000 troops in a final push to clear the region of ter­ror­ists, with the plan of a grad­ual pull-out begin­ning in 2011. We all know how that worked out: It didn’t. By 2015, Obama’s plan to ful­ly pull all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 was can­celled. In his words, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion is still very fragile.”

How, then, does Trump plan to erad­i­cate ter­ror­ism with 4,000 addi­tion­al troops and no defined timetable? And why is he try­ing to send more troops when very recent his­to­ry sug­gests inevitable failure?

The cost and prof­its of pro­longed war

The short answer: War is extreme­ly prof­itable. Since 2001, almost $800 bil­lion has been spent on the Afghan war so far. Arms man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies and defense con­trac­tors like Lock­heed Mar­tin and Raytheon ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cant­ly when the Unit­ed States is engaged in long-term, con­tin­u­ous warfare.

This may have helped lead Trump to con­tra­dict the bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty agree­ment signed between Afghanistan and the Unit­ed States in 2014, which called for a reduc­tion of U.S. forces to a mil­i­tary advi­so­ry pres­ence at the U.S. embassy in Kab­ul by the end of 2017. Instead, Trump said that con­di­tions on the ground, not arbi­trary timeta­bles, will guide our strat­e­gy from now on. Amer­i­ca’s ene­mies must nev­er know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”

Trump had pre­vi­ous­ly crit­i­cized the war in Afghanistan for being futile and inef­fi­cient. On Twit­ter, Trump post­ed about the war on sev­er­al occa­sions in 2011, 2012 and 2013, call­ing it a waste” and advo­cat­ing a total with­draw­al from the coun­try. As can­di­date Trump, he told CNN’s New Day” on Oct. 6, 2015 that he believed it was a mis­take for the U.S. to enter Afghanistan. Only lat­er that month, how­ev­er, he claimed to have been call­ing the Iraq War a mis­take, and said the U.S. had been right to invade Afghanistan. Dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial debate in March 2016, he dou­bled down, say­ing, I think you have to stay in Afghanistan for a while.” In short, he has shift­ed his stance and appears con­fused about the exact his­to­ry of U.S. mil­i­tary involvement.

In his August 21 speech, he said, My orig­i­nal instinct was to pull out [of Afghanistan], and his­tor­i­cal­ly I like fol­low­ing my instincts. But all my life, I have heard that deci­sions are much dif­fer­ent when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.”

Trump now calls for an hon­or­able and endur­ing out­come,” but this can­not be achieved by killing inno­cent Afghans across the provinces. Since Trump took office, the U.S. mil­i­tary has dropped almost 2,000 air strikes in Afghanistan, caus­ing an untold num­ber of civil­ian casu­al­ties. And in April of this year, the mil­i­tary dropped the 22,000-pound Mas­sive Ord­nance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb in the Achin dis­trict of Nan­garhar province. The MOAB is the largest non-nuclear bomb used in his­to­ry. More troops will like­ly mean even more deaths and con­tin­ued air strikes.

In addi­tion, Trump’s argu­ment that a hasty with­draw­al would cre­ate a vac­u­um [that] ter­ror­ists … would instant­ly fill” is a red her­ring. After 16 years of U.S. occu­pa­tion, the Tal­iban are stronger than before and show no sign of stop­ping their reign of destruc­tion and insta­bil­i­ty. Speak­ing to The Inter­cept, one Tal­iban-allied com­man­der, Esmat­ul­lah Bashari, explained how the U.S. pres­ence was actu­al­ly help­ing the group:

After every strike, peo­ple, some­times the whole clan, join our fight,” said Bashari, with char­ac­ter­is­tic exag­ger­a­tion. Espe­cial­ly when women and chil­dren get killed, the anger is enor­mous, they don’t have any oth­er choice than to fight.”

If the U.S. con­tin­ues with a kill-first, peace-lat­er atti­tude toward the war, we will only see more casu­al­ties and per­pet­u­al blood­shed. The fog of war” will become a storm we can­not clear.

A new anti-war Left?

Dur­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, the anti-war move­ment was large­ly absent. Even groups that were vocal against the Iraq War were notice­ably silent when it came to Afghanistan. How­ev­er, now that Trump, abhorred by the Left, has come out in sup­port for the war in Afghanistan, one sil­ver lin­ing is that per­haps peo­ple will start to orga­nize against the war in the same man­ner they have against racism and Nazism.

As has been made clear, Amer­i­cans can­not save” the Afghan peo­ple; only Afghans can save them­selves. The most impor­tant step that we Amer­i­cans can take to end this war and stop the blood­shed is to sup­port the sov­er­eign­ty of Afghans and their right to self-deter­mi­na­tion. We can start by sup­port­ing the work of groups and indi­vid­u­als work­ing to gen­uine­ly help Afghanistan, such as Razia’s Ray of Hope Foun­da­tion, which works to edu­cate women and chil­dren, and Emran Fer­oz, a jour­nal­ist who com­mem­o­rates civil­ian drone vic­tims. We must call on the pop­u­lar resent­ment and dis­like of Trump and turn the tide against a war that has cost hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent lives, severe­ly dam­aged the country’s infra­struc­ture, and caused irre­versible harm to the envi­ron­ment and nat­ur­al resources. 

See­lai Popal is an Afghan-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­er, jour­nal­ist, and poet. Her writ­ing has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Ric­o­chet ​and Truthout.
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