Donald Trump has announced a “new strategy” for the war in Afghanistan, which after 16 years is America’s longest running war. His strategy is anything but new. It’s a rehash of what was tried and failed under Barack Obama: sending more troops.
There are 8400 US troops currently in Afghanistan. Trump will add 4000, breaking an election promise to withdraw. But the presence of over 130,000 coalition troops in 2010-2012 wasn’t enough to defeat the Taliban. They now control almost half the country and are gaining ground. The war has cost the US over a trillion dollars, and killed 100,000 Afghans and 2300 American soldiers.
Trump has appealed to US allies for greater assistance. Malcolm Turnbull came out in full support, pointing out that Australia announced an increase in troops to 300 in May.
The brutality of the war has driven many to take up arms against Western forces. It was revealed in July that Australian soldiers murdered an Afghan boy collecting figs, dumped the body and never reported it so it wasn’t investigated.
An Australian special forces veteran revealed how there was a culture amongst soldiers that aimed to “get kills up.” Units would compete to reach the highest body count.
In 2012 US forces incensed ordinary Afghans when they incinerated copies of the Koran at a military base. US troops then shot dead 20 protesters. In October 2015 a US airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz killed 19 people. It’s no wonder some regard the Taliban as the lesser evil and tolerate them as a form of protection.
The US aimed to defeat the Taliban by winning “hearts and minds.” But the US-backed President, Ashraf Ghani, has allied himself with brutal warlords like General Dostum.
In Kunduz, which fell to the Taliban in September 2015, local residents complained that militias linked to the government were worse than the Taliban. There were regular reports of extortion by government officials and the local governor was notorious for expropriating people’s land.
In some areas government officials have colluded with the Taliban, selling them arms, while corrupt judges have been known to release Taliban fighters from prison.
The West can offer Afghanistan nothing but more war and violence. Rather than sending more troops, they should be leaving the country.
By Lachlan Marshall