Mission is not accomplished

  • Premature flight from Afghanistan a dangerous option

A no doubt well-meaning Republican US Senator with a liberal mindset, Rand Paul, has come up with a novel but naïve solution to end the tangled Afghan conflict: declare victory and bring the US troops home. It is like the facetious Russian ‘no war, no peace’ slogan coined in the Great War and an equally futile gamble. Senator Rand has sweetened the misconceived pullout plan with an appeasement of American patriotic fervour and capitalist instincts. The government will grant one-time ‘peace dividend’ bonus of US$2,500 to each Iraq and Afghan War veteran, totalling US$7 billion, while saving US$50 billion spent annually in prosecuting the war on terror. President Trump also made it clear in recent months that he is itching for a quick-fix, emergency exit from Afghanistan, perhaps with an eye on 2020 US presidential elections.

But Senator Rand’s thinking is based on the penny-wise, pound-foolish adage. The overall situation in Afghanistan is at a crucial stage, with serious peace talks ongoing between the US and Taliban, intense militant activity against the wobbly Afghan government, and Daesh regrouping and hoping to fill the vacuum left by sudden US withdrawal. So the actual final cost of a Trump-Rand type of impatient retreat could be horrendous, not only for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, but also for US domestic and worldwide interests.

A patient waiting game for a successful conclusion to the current wide-ranging talks presents the best, or only, hope for lasting Afghan peace. Any ill-considered time frame for US troop departure without a formal peace deal will only embolden the Taliban to adopt a tougher stance in negotiations and also intensify attacks to gain an advantageous position. The US should learn from recent history. The Vietnamese War negotiations started in 1968 but the peace accord was not signed until January 1973, while President George W. Bush’s theatrical and impulsive ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech on May 1, 2003 turned out to be a costly blunder. Apart from stoking anarchy and sectarian enmity in Iraq with its deadly civilian toll, the 104 American casualties suffered in the entire war increased after the reckless ‘mission accomplished’ speech by a further 3,424 US soldiers killed till February 2011.