We Got Afghanistan Wrong, but There’s Still Time to Learn Something

“We have already heard a lot about “conditions-based” approaches and all that Afghanistan might lose with our withdrawal. Notably missing from those arguments is any acknowledgment of how inefficient and ineffective our nearly 20-year-long military-led endeavor has been, how our efforts thus far have fed into Afghanistan’s dysfunction, and why we should not expect “more of the same” to lead to better outcomes now.”

“Instead of building a force that fit Afghanistan, we built an Army of mini-me’s. A force that, like our military, requires massive logistical support and technical capabilities to manage. A force that relies heavily on airpower and armored vehicles to fight an enemy who relies on his feet, IEDs and an AK-47. This is not a new revelation, but with the constant turnover of American commanders and a perennially optimistic (or delusional) view that the potential for victory over the Taliban was just around the corner, the instinct was always to double-down, or keep propping up the Afghan forces just long enough to get them over the finish line.

Unfortunately, there was always a fatal flaw to this approach. Pushing western technology and firepower into the Afghan military was never going to be sufficient to beat the Taliban, not when pouring billions of dollars into a government ill-equipped to handle it also contributed to the corruption and illegitimacy that opened additional political space for the Taliban to operate.” 

“With President Biden’s decision to withdraw there undoubtedly will be consequences for the Afghan military. The absence of sustained American airpower will enable the Taliban to move even more freely, while the Afghan government will be challenged to move its best fighters around the country via helicopters to counter Taliban gains. Unfortunately, American military leaders have placed so much emphasis on building a force reliant on these assets that it will take some time for security forces more organic to Afghanistan to emerge, and it is far from certain whether an effective force can form in the face of increased Taliban attacks.”

“We must, at long last, acknowledge that building a national army requiring the kind of technological and logistical support to which western militaries are accustomed was not only a massive waste of American blood and treasure, but actually counterproductive to the fight. Jettisoning our delusional vision for the Afghan military will be painful in the short run, but necessary for Afghan stability in the long run. It is well-past time to shift our thinking from how many millions of dollars we need to keep airframes operational, to making sure that those assets that are actually sustainable and useful for Afghan forces are in place as foreign forces withdraw.”


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