President Donald Trump is back on the stump, trumpeting his alleged triumphs since the 2016 election. Somehow, he never mentions Afghanistan.
For years, Trump has denounced endless foreign wars, including Afghanistan. For example, he tweeted in 2012 that Afghanistan is “a complete waste. Time to come home!”
Once in power, however, Trump filled top adviser and cabinet positions with generals and neocons who advocate permanent occupation of Afghanistan. He suddenly became interested in the country’s estimated $1 trillion in rare earth minerals, which are vital to manufacturing such high-tech products as cell phones.
Then, one year ago, Trump announced plans to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At the time, I and many other commentators said a few thousand more troops couldn’t possibly shift the tide of war when 100,000 failed under Obama.
And, sure enough, the military situation has gotten worse for the United States and its corrupt allies in Kabul. When the U.S. military intensified its air war, the Taliban retaliated with devastating attacks on Kabul and other major cities. In the latest example, on August 10, the Taliban attacked and held the key city of Ghazni for several days.
To date, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 US soldiers; another 20,000 have been wounded. An estimated 110,000 Afghans have died in the conflict. US taxpayers have spent more than a trillion dollars on the war so far, not counting the billions in future veteran’s benefits.
Kathy Kelly – co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non Violence, which supports humanitarian work in Afghanistan – told me her group has long advocated that all US and allied troops pull out, and the United States pay reparations for the damage it’s done.
“This is a failed war, as are all wars,” she said.
During my first reporting trips to Afghanistan in the aughts, I stayed in inexpensive guest houses, walked to interviews when practical, and visited sources in their homes. Those days are long gone.
Dr. Hakim Young, a medical doctor originally from Singapore, has seen dramatic changes during his fourteen years of humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Today any government building could be attacked by insurgents, even the military and intelligence headquarters in Kabul.
“We avoid government, political, and religious buildings,” he told me from Kabul. “We vary daily movements and schedules.”
Even talking or walking with a Westerner can put local Afghans in danger because of popular anger at foreign occupation. So Westerners try avoid notice by dressing in local clothes.
Hakim, meanwhile, says “it helps that I look like an Afghan, and speak their language.”
Among Afghans in general, he said, “the mood is one of stress, trauma, uncertainty, insecurity, frustration, anger, distrust and hopelessness. This mood is reflected in the continual outflow of Afghans seeking asylum elsewhere.”
Most Afghans don’t support the Taliban or the Islamic State, the two main insurgent groups. But it’s not as though the United States, having allied itself with brutal drug-dealing warlords, has provided a viable alternative.
Take Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord with a long history of human rights abuses who as been accused of beating and ordering the rape of a rival politician. Oh, did I mention, he’s also Afghanistan’s first vice president?
Last year, he fled to Turkey in the middle of the night. Dostum’s supporters among the Uzbek ethnic minority have recently engaged in violent demonstrations against the government. In a surprise move, Dostum returned to Kabul in July and met with major government leaders including President Ashraf Ghani. It seems unlikely that Dostum will face trial for the rape, let alone for decades of human rights abuses.
“There are multiple warlords in Afghanistan and the Taliban is just one of them,” Kelly said. “There is no functioning government right now. It’s a failed narco state.”
It’s little wonder the people of Afghanistan want the United States and its corrupt government partners to leave.
The Helmand Peace Convoy, now called the People’s Peace Movement, presents a few rays of hope. In March, unknown bombers killed seventeen civilians and wounded fifty in the southern province of Helmand. So a group of elders, relatives of injured civilians, and civil society activists set up a peace tent in protest.
They called for a ceasefire and peace talks between warring factions and withdrawal of foreign forces. Encouraged by the positive response from the public, they marched 400 miles to the capital of Kabul.
According to Hakim, people are generally supportive of the protesters.“The Movement has shifted the mood a little,” he said, adding, “We need to remain optimistic in taking tiny positive actions. The alternative would allow the exploitative, violent actors to worsen the multiple crises gripping Afghanistan.”
When the marchers reached Kabul, among other actions, they held a sit-in at the U.S. embassy.
“If the US can topple a regime in fifteen days,” the Movement wrote in a statement, “then why has it not been able to bring peace in the past seventeen years?”
Reese Erlich’s syndicated column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks. He is author of Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage. Reprinted from The Progressive with the author’s permission.