Is Trump About to Repeat His Syria Failure in Afghanistan?

The president, having prematurely declared victory in Syria so he could drawdown out forces (thus allowing Daesh/ISIS to recover while Bashar Assad tightens his grip on the rest of the country), appears ready to do it again in Afghanistan.

When the editors of the Washington Post and I are on one side, there really shouldn’t be another side:

U.S. NEGOTIATORS are reportedly racing to complete a flimsy peace accord with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents in the coming days before President Trump unilaterally announces a U.S. troop withdrawal. If so, they and Mr. Trump are repeating the mistake for which they long blamed President Barack Obama — committing to troop pullouts from conflict zones without first ensuring that the result is not a military and political disaster.

The WaPo editors go into further detail about the problems with the negotiations – they don’t include the Afghan government; there hasn’t been any commitment from the Taliban for a cease-fire; and there is no allowance for an American counter-terrorist force. The only thing we’ve managed to get from the Taliban is a “commitment to break with al-Qaeda” – which would be quite a feat given that the two forces have “been deeply intertwined since before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” as the WaPo editors (rightly) note.

In other words, Trump would rather the war be ended than it be won.

If anything, the editors limit the strength of their argument by focusing on the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq as an example. Don’t get me wrong, that is an excellent example. I myself noted five years ago that leaving was a mistake, and that we would have to go back (as we did). There is, however, another example – Trump’s aforementioned premature drawdown from Syria, which also got my attention. We are seeing the effects of that mistake in Syria now, as Glenn Fine, Principal Deputy IG, noted (via CNN) “(t)he reduction of US forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence” (emphasis added).

In the case of Afghanistan, it would be, if anything, even worse (back to the WaPo):

In the case of Afghanistan, the potential bad consequences are even easier to foresee: the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government; reimposition by the Taliban of a draconian dictatorship that denies fundamental human rights, especially to women; and the strengthening of extremist groups, including an Islamic State affiliate that already commands thousands of fighters.

Additionally, a Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan would send a message to every sponsor and harborer of terrorism around the world: namely, you can hit the US – and hit it hard – and still survive their counter-offensive.

I’m not saying defeating the Taliban will be easy. I’m not saying it will be sufficient to make America and the democratic world safer. I am saying it is necessary. If we can’t do it with our current military posture and political strategy, then we need to adjust those, not move the goalposts to re-label a defeat as “peace.”

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