Texarkana, TX 72° View Live Radar Wed H 75° L 58° Thu H 76° L 62° Fri H 80° L 65° Weather Sponsored By:

A long war without an objective

A long war without an objective

March 10th, 2018 by George Will in Opinion Columns

"The war is over." —Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Afghanistan (April 2002) "I believe victory is closer than ever before." —Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan (December 2017)


WASHINGTON—With metronomic regularity, every thousand days or so, Americans should give some thought to the longest war in their nation's history. The war in Afghanistan, which is becoming one of the longest in world history, reaches its 6,000th day on Monday, when it will have ground on for substantially more than four times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).

America went to war in Afghanistan because that not-really-governed nation was the safe haven from which al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks. It was not mission creep but mission gallop that turned the intervention into a war against the Taliban who had provided, or at least not prevented, the safe haven. So, the United States was on a mission opposed by a supposed ally next door—Pakistan, which through Directorate S of its intelligence service has supported the Taliban.

This fascinating, if dispiriting, story is told in Steve Coll's new book "Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan." There cannot be many secrets about this subject that are not in Coll's almost 700 pages.

He reports when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, "A senior Army officer in Washington told him, 'Don't build Bondstells,' referring to the NATO base in Bosnia that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against 'anything here that looks permanent. We are not staying long.' As McChrystal took the lay of the land, 'I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.'" It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels, some almost as long as a football field, that were thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned that they were an ancient irrigation system.

A decade ago, seven years after the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the U.S. objective was the creation of a strong central government. When he was asked if Afghanistan had ever had one, he answered without hesitation: "No." Which is still true.

Years have passed since the time when, years into the war, U.S. military and civilian officials heatedly debated "counterinsurgency" as contrasted with "counterterrorism," distinctions that now seem less than crucial. Coll says of military commanders rotating in and out of Afghanistan annually, "The commanders starting a rotation would say, 'This is going to be difficult.' Six months later, they'd say, 'We might be turning a corner.' At the end of their rotation, they would say, 'We have achieved irreversible momentum.' Then the next command group coming in would pronounce, 'This is going to be difficult. '" The earnestness and valor that Americans have brought to Afghanistan are as heartbreaking as they are admirable.

For 73 years, U.S. troops have been on the Rhine, where their presence helped win the Cold War and now serves vital U.S. interests as Vladimir Putin ignites Cold War 2.0. Significant numbers of U.S. troops have been in South Korea for 68 years, and few people are foolish enough to doubt the usefulness of this deployment, or to think that it will or should end soon. It is conceivable, and conceivably desirable, that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan, lending intelligence, logistical and even lethal support to that nation's military and security forces for another 1,000, perhaps 6,000, days.

It would, however, be helpful to have an explanation of U.S. interests and objectives beyond vice presidential boilerplate about how "We will see it through to the end." And (to U.S. troops) how "the road before you is promising." And how the president has "unleashed the full range of American military might." And how "reality and facts and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us." And how U.S. forces have "crushed the enemy in the field" (or at least "put the Taliban on the defensive") in "this fight for freedom in Afghanistan," where Bagram Airfield is "a beacon of freedom." If the U.S. objective is freedom there rather than security here, or if the theory is that the latter somehow depends on the former, the administration should clearly say so, and defend those propositions, or liquidate this undertaking that has, so far, cost about $1 trillion and 2,200 American lives.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com