What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?

The erratic presidency of Mr Donald Trump is careering from policy to policy, mixing some up, cancelling others and inventing a few on the hoof while trying to cope with self-inflicted crises affecting important international affairs.  The recent debacle over the enforced exit of National Security Adviser, General Flynn, was more than just a PR calamity, because it seems that some important international matters then fell by the wayside.

Senator John McCain summed up the situation by publicly wondering “Who’s making the decisions in the White House? Is it the 31-year-old? Is it Mr. Bannon?  Is it the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? I don’t know! They need to clean up their act.”  And among other acts and places requiring clean-up is Afghanistan, that sewage-pit of corruption.

On February 15 Russia hosted discussions on Afghanistan aimed at encouraging the Taliban to negotiate with the shaky government in Kabul.  Representatives from Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia met to confer about further efforts in support of the country, and it is possible that their efforts could eventually pay dividends.  But the situation is so dire that it will require more immediate action to establish a measure of stability.  But what sort of action, Mr Trump?


India’s South Asia Terrorism Portal noted that on February 8 six members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot dead in Afghanistan by terrorists of the Islamic State (IS), and catalogued a depressing number of similar vile atrocities that have taken place this year.

Concurrently there came news that “as many as 18 civilians died in air strikes [on  February 10] in Helmand’s Sangin district, according to a statement released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.”

“The UN said the strikes had been conducted by ‘international military forces,’ but only US aircraft have been involved in recent coalition strikes, according to US military officials. Afghan officials and local residents told Al Jazeera that the death toll was higher than 18.”  The Los Angeles Times reported that “Abdul Ghafar Akhund, a 54-year-old supervisor of polio vaccination programs and prayer leader at a mosque in Sangin, said his wife, two daughters, a son and a daughter-in-law were killed when an airstrike hit his house. Akhund, who was away from home, returned to find his house destroyed. He denied that there were Taliban members in the area, saying US troops had visited his neighborhood days before the incident.”  He said “The Americans have been taking revenge on us. They don’t differentiate between civilians and non-civilians, women and children.”

Whether or not Abdul Ghafar is correct about “revenge” in his understandably distraught statement is neither here nor there, so far as truth is concerned, because his appalling tragedy will be used by Islamic State, the Taliban and every other loony extremist organization to make propaganda points that will spread throughout Afghanistan and the entire Muslim world.  It does not matter in the wider picture that the Western media play down this sort of calamity, because most people in the US and the western world in general could not give a fig for the inhabitants of Afghanistan, and even when the savages of IS murder six International Red Cross workers, there isn’t much reaction.

The new General managers in Washington — the combo of military intellectuals appointed by Mr Trump to guide and decide military and diplomatic policy —  are those who were involved in failure to win wars in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq and are intent on expanding US militarism to become even more deeply engaged in the Syria shambles and confront Russia to the point of war.  They are revered by the US and international media for their personal characteristics, but the fact remains that all the conflicts in which they were engaged have been disasters.

The situation in Afghanistan is verging on catastrophe.  It is, to trot out yet another well-worn description, a deep and horrible quagmire. And still there is no word of decision from the White House as to how the new Administration is going to deal with the situation in the context of ‘America First.’  One would think that Mr Trump, intense profit-seeker and dedicated preserver of wealth that he is, might at least say a few words about the waste of US money, even if he does not care about murdered Red Cross workers and bombed babies.  But he doesn’t seem to be engaging the gears of cost-effectiveness to try to lead the world’s third most corrupt country to social improvement.

Well before his election campaign began Mr Trump gave many television interviews, and in one of them touched on Afghan affairs.  Mr Bill O’Reilly of Fox News said to him questioningly : “Afghanistan, you’re out?” and received the disjointed reply that “Look. I am the strongest military person, and if I have Iran in one, I would be the strongest military president ever. I believe in having — I would not be cutting the budget. I’d be coming out with the best weapons ever, all right? But with Afghanistan, I want to build our country. You know, in Afghanistan, they build a school. They blow up the school. They blow up the road. We then start all over again. And in New Orleans and in Alabama, we can’t build schools.”

It seems he meant that the US is wasting money in Afghanistan that would be better spent building schools in New Orleans and Alabama.  That’s a fair point of view, and even if it is entirely negative concerning Afghanistan, Mr O’Reilly and his vast audience were meant to understand that Trump would probably pull the financial plug if he were to become the “strongest military person.”

So what is he going to do?

Afghanistan is to all intents a colony of the United States and its western allies.  Were they to cease their funding, there would be total collapse.  But the vast majority of aid money flooding into Afghanistan is siphoned off by criminals, many of whom are in government or the military.  As noted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace : “Corruption hardly topped the threat list when US military forces and civilians first entered Afghanistan in 2001. But recognition of its devastating potential to undermine US national security objectives is far higher today. Despite a myriad of US efforts, however, corruption remains deeply entrenched. It undermines the government’s legitimacy, enables an emboldened insurgency, and puts at risk the gains from US taxpayers’ nearly $115 billion investment in reconstruction.”

This should be a wake-up call for President Trump, but it appears his priorities lie elsewhere.  If he continues to ignore the calls for action, then Afghanistan will continue its downward plunge to anarchy which will not only be disastrous for its unfortunate citizens but could prove a massive problem for the US. For the moment the crazy Islamic State has a small presence in Afghanistan, but if unchecked will almost certainly expand in numbers and influence.  One of its main targets is the United States, whose President should make up his mind what course of action to take concerning the nation his country invaded fifteen years ago.

What advice might his new General managers give him?  Their solution, no matter their vaunted intellectual and war-fighting expertise, will probably be to expand the war. Would this make economic or strategic sense?

What are you going to do about Afghanistan, President Trump?

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.