Forgotten Afghan war now perpetual, tolerable: New York Times


NEW YORK: An article published in the New York Times says the Afghan war has transformed into a perpetual endeavour and tolerable.

It says despite appropriating over three-quarters of a trillion dollars on Afghanistan since 2001, Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for nonexistent soldiers.

It also quotes a recent report from the Defence Department’s special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, which says, “The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.”

The article further says, “When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.”

It is, “For the new commander-in-chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.” “Last week Gen Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.”

Arguing his point, the writer says, “And that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem that anyone is. At the Senate hearings on the nomination of James Mattis as defence secretary, Afghanistan barely came up.”

Criticising the political leadership and the Congress to recognise the problem, the article notes that the military brass deserved some of the blame. “Soon after Mr Mattis’ hearing, Gen John Nicholson, the latest in a long line of American commanders to have presided over the Afghan mission, arrived in Washington to report on its progress.

“While conceding that the conflict is stalemated, Gen Nicholson doggedly insisted that it is a ‘stalemate where the equilibrium favours the government.’ Carefully avoiding terms like ‘victory’ or ‘win’, he described his strategy as ‘hold-fight-disrupt’. He ventured no guess on when the war might end.”

Mentioning the rampant corruption in Afghanistan, the article says, “Adjusted for inflation, American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan; yet to have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support.”

The article states that despite all these efforts the things are getting worse. “Although the United States has invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security forces, only 63 per cent of the country’s districts are under government control, with significant territory lost to the Taliban over the past year. Though the United States has spent $8.5 billion to battle narcotics in Afghanistan, opium production there has reached an all-time high.”

“For this, over the past 15 years, nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died, and 20,000 more have been wounded.” Describing the failure to assess the ground situation, the articles says, “As with budget deficits or cost overruns on weapons purchases, members of the national security apparatus — elected and appointed officials, senior military officers and other policy insiders — accept war as a normal condition.”

It says the avoidance of war once figured as a national priority but “on those occasions when war proved unavoidable, the idea was to end the conflict as expeditiously as possible on favourable terms”.

“These precepts no longer apply. With war transformed into a perpetual endeavour, expectations have changed. In Washington, war has become tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated as quickly as possible. Like other large-scale government projects, war now serves as a medium through which favours are bestowed, largess distributed and ambitions satisfied.”

“That our impulsive commander-in-chief may one day initiate some new war in a fit of pique is a worrisome prospect. That neither President Trump nor anyone else in Washington seems troubled that wars once begun drag on in perpetuity is beyond worrisome.”