The new administration must surely be thinking about the challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan and what to do. The region has bedeviled outsiders for generations. Afghanistan perplexed Alexander the Great, got the best of the British, beat up on the Soviet Union, and now it’s befuddled U.S. Presidents Barack Obama for the last eight years and George W. Bush for most of the eight years before that. While Obama had originally hoped to end our long U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, he wound up going sideways over the last few years, grudgingly maintaining about 10,000 non-combat mission troops on the ground.
What might the new Trump administration do? On the good side, you have Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in the administration, and those two men have deep experience in the area. On the bad side, you unfortunately have a situation that frankly does not have any good answers. These are difficult foreign policy challenges for the U.S. (and the world), and ones where there are no real “solutions” to implement – only a slate of bad options from which you are going to have to choose something and try to make it work.
In Afghanistan, we have now had U.S. military forces in the country for over 15 years. What is the plan? Is there a plan? Are we getting out? Staying forever? Combat operations ended at the end of 2014.
There seem to only be two broad choices in Afghanistan for the new Commander in Chief – and both choices have serious downsides:
Stay the course and continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on Afghanistan every year, paying billions to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and billions to Afghanistan to support the Afghan National Army and other institutions. The only real mission today is to stop the country from falling to the Taliban and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists who might plan attacks against the West. Meanwhile, if we stay, the death toll for the U.S. continues as the casualties dribble in.