Since 9/11, America’s essential mission in Afghanistan has been what I call Guard Duty Writ Large.
To protect U.S. national security at home and abroad, America had to attack and damage militant Islamic terrorist organizations. That meant denying them bases in anarchic regions, like Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. Denying doesn’t mean we have to occupy those places. It definitely doesn’t mean we need to engage in nation building and culture-changing — those are mega-challenges.
We can strike Yemen and Somalia from the sea. Landlocked Afghanistan presents a problem. The closest air bases are six to seven hours away. Guard duty in Afghanistan means — or meant — maintaining an on-the-ground presence, primarily to support Afghan forces and refuel allied aircraft, but also to occasionally conduct U.S. air and ground raids on high-value targets throughout the region. The special operations raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in his Pakistan compound was launched from Afghanistan.
Many in the defense and intelligence community agree that guard duty was the essential mission. Some argued nation building would ultimately give pro-democracy Afghans the tools to guard themselves. We did try that. Afghan corruption undermined the effort.
In many respects, the U.S. Afghanistan operations since mid-2019 have been guard duty. The last American combat death occurred in February 2020. Pro-democracy Afghan government military and police forces did most of the fighting, with the U.S. and NATO providing air and fire support and intelligence assistance. This support meant the Taliban couldn’t defeat the Afghan government. In this case, stalemate aided America’s essential mission.
Unfortunately, high-visibility American political and media narrators, particularly on the left but also on the right, would call me an advocate of endless U.S. military commitments and condemn guard duty as a form of “forever war.”
I use scare quotes because I’m not quite sure what “forever war” means in the real world. It measures time like a Hollywood movie — beginning and end. That’s disconnected from reality. The term works as angry rhetoric but fails to address on-the-ground security.
Fact: U.S. military personnel have been in South Korea far longer than they have been in Afghanistan. There is no peace treaty between South and North Korea. Don’t tell me Afghanistan is America’s longest war.
And don’t tell me American withdrawal means the war in Afghanistan is over. It’s not. In July 2021, the stalemate ended and anti-Taliban forces collapsed after they lost U.S. and allied air support. The Biden administration made no attempt to counter the Taliban’s surprise offensive. The Taliban filled the vacuum America’s incompetent withdrawal created. Al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and other homicidal terror factions will eventually return to Afghanistan.
The stalemate protected pro-democracy Afghans who believed America would defend them and, failing that, give them refuge. State Department bureaucrats say it will take 12 to 18 months to process their visa applications. Meanwhile, Taliban death squads will execute the tens of thousands who fail to escape.
Too bad about all the enemies those policies create, thwarting legitimate self determination of peoples. Or are we constantly in a low-level military contest with Islam? (But the alliance between our socialist globalist elites and Islam to bring down western culture would forbid acknowledging that.)