Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump showed up in Afghanistan, or rather on the US Bagram base in Afghanistan, on Thanksgiving, where he gave one of his typical Long Lies of a speech.
Katie Bo Williams writes at Defense One that this year, 17 US troops have been killed and 124 wounded in action, the worse numbers in five years. That is, under Trump, US military casualties in Afghanistan are up.
Afghanistan’s government control over the country, the SIGAR watchdog agency concludes, is at also down 16% since 2014, with only 55.5% of districts witnessing government control or substantial influence.
Trump is losing this war, badly.
His visit was made under a cloud, since he had just lost his Secretary of the Navy because he intervened in the military justice system to rehabilitate a man convicted of violating Navy Seal standards of conduct in the field.
Trump’s message to the troops on Thanksgiving was, Let your inner Hermann Göring out.
Under Trump, the US would have no standing to support the Nuremberg trials of war criminals as it did after World War II, since the German and Japanese officers and officials charged had just behaved as Trump thinks military men should behave. That should be a real morale builder for the troops.
Trump boasted of raising the Pentagon budget and getting the US military in Afghanistan the weapons and equipment it needs, of which, he implied, the Obama administration had starved them. This is ridiculous. Trump raised the military budget, but most of that money just goes to civilian military contractors. It is in large part a form of corporate welfare and has nothing to do with the poorly paid GIs. The troops in Afghanistan never lacked for high-powered weaponry. They lost the war because it is a guerrilla war and the US has never been good at fighting guerrilla wars.
Trump has pursued negotiations with the Taliban, which collapsed this summer and then began again. In the hands of another president this move might have been the right one. With Trump, it is like his efforts to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons– it is just meetings with little substance. The Taliban have been making a fool of him, launching aggressive attacks even while at the negotiating table. This looks like Nixon’s negotiations with North Vietnam, which really were just an elaborate way to surrender.
What Trump didn’t say to the troops’ faces is that he doesn’t believe in their mission, for which they are risking their lives in a way he never did, and doesn’t want them out there at all. He wanted to pull them all out and let the chips fall where they may, as he did with the special forces in northeast Syria. Maybe getting out of Afghanistan is the right move, I don’t know. There sure will be hell to pay when Kabul falls to the Taliban. But Trump can’t talk all macho about supporting a war effort that he doesn’t believe in when he just wants to run for the exits.
He’ll get away with it, though, because our information system and increasingly our democracy is broken.
Things are getting worse and worse in Afghanistan on Trump’s watch, with the US military admitting that the Taliban have control over or substantial influence in half the country. Casualties from 3500 Taliban attacks this summer were up 10% year over year. Deaths of Afghan national security forces were up 5% this summer over 2018.
In a study conducted late in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, the BBC found a vast deterioration in the government position and a Taliban onslaught since 2014, when international troops left the country and only a small US contingent remained. Only 30% of the country’s 398 districts were firmly in government hands and relatively calm. The Taliban completely controlled 14 provinces, but they could launch attacks in 263 districts (66% of the country).
By all accounts, things have gotten worse since then. On Trump’s watch.