Bombing Afghanistan After the Troops are Gone

Photograph Source: Department of Defense – Public Domain

If the military officials who talk to the press get their way, the U.S. war in Afghanistan will never end. This became execrably clear on June 9, when the New York Times published an article quoting anonymous Pentagon dignitaries informing us that after the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it may continue to bomb the country, if it doesn’t like how things go. You read that right. President Biden says the war will end. The geniuses in the Pentagon say no it won’t, we’ll keep bombing.

I confess I did a double-take reading this apparent mucking up of the chain of command. We all knew that military bigwigs become rebellious when told to wind down a war. We got a display of that when Trump tried to pull troops out of Syria – and that’s just what we mere mortals read about in the press. Who knows what temper-tantrums exploded behind closed doors at the Pentagon? But still, going to the media with promises to continue Afghan bombing after Biden withdraws the troops, well, that seemed excessive. But then the article made clear that this bombing post-military-adieu debate has old roots: It has been under discussion, probably for years, ever since the U.S. realized it couldn’t win and would have to retreat. And of course, these nameless sources could well have spoken with Biden’s blessing. We plebs have no way of knowing.

Particularly repulsive was the Times’ eagerness to provide these anonymous officials with a platform – essentially putting their views on equal footing with stated U.S. policy, namely ending the war. But that was the whole point of the exercise, right? To show that when it comes to dragging out a 20-year war that has killed thousands of American soldiers, thousands of Afghans and cost trillions of dollars, military bureaucrats are in the driver’s seat, regardless of official white house policy. Frankly, the whole display was sickening.

Media celebrities have jumped in too, bellowing lustily for more blood. Recently Bill Kristol tweeted that Biden should cut his losses, endure the embarrassment and reverse his decision. This, according to the neo-con big-shot, would be better than proceeding “with a withdrawal that is likely to lead to a disastrous outcome for our national security and national honor.” What national honor? After 20 years of slaughter, that honor looks sadly tattered, to say the least. But this amoral sachem, from the safety of his armchair, says, yes, sure, go ahead and kill more U.S. soldiers, more Afghans, because not to would look bad. As for our national security, the Taliban already rule most of the country and that hasn’t impacted our security – outside of Afghanistan – one iota.

Wouldn’t it be far better for Biden to keep his word and leave, having hammered out a deal with the Taliban that they are not to harbor terrorists who threaten the United States? That’s ostensibly why the U.S. attacked Afghanistan to begin with – remember Al Qaeda? Despite a few hundred remaining fighters, they’re long gone. But we’re still there, mindlessly punching and killing lots of people, none of whom are terrorists intent on attacking the chillingly designated “homeland.” Cutting a deal with Afghanistan’s future rulers, the Taliban, seems like the sane, reasonable thing to do. But reason and sanity do not adorn any blood-drenched prize called honor.

Meanwhile the troop drawdown continues. Presumably so does the one for mercenaries, aka contractors, though one can never be too sure. No word, by the way, about the CIA and what will happen to its considerable Afghan assets, including poppy fields. As for the special forces that may remain, engaged in whatever mysterious peaceful activities, I guess that situation is tbd.

In early May, Stars and Stripes reported that 60 planeloads of U.S. military equipment left Afghanistan. The Pentagon is still removing over “3000 troops, thousands of U.S. contractors and their equipment by September 11…Air Force C-17 cargo jets…are running near around-the-clock missions to move military equipment out of Afghanistan.” CENTCOM told the publication that it had shifted one base to the Afghan military, which will also get some gear.

They’ll need it. Trump struck a deal with the Taliban for the U.S. to leave by May 1. Biden smashed that arrangement. Not surprisingly, on May 4 the Taliban started a major offensive. That’s because instead of the U.S. being gone from the country, only “two to six percent of the withdrawal process had been completed so far,” according to Reuters on that day. “The deadline has been met with a surge in violence, with a car bomb…killing almost 30 people…At least seven Afghan military personnel were killed when the Taliban set off explosives.” But our Pentagon honchos happily contemplate war from the air. That may well eliminate U.S. casualties, though Afghan corpses would doubtless pile up fast.

Then on May 31, the Times reported that “American troops are set to be out by early to mid-July, well ahead of President Biden’s September 11 deadline.” This news unexpectedly buoyed those who’d doubted Biden’s seriousness about peace. Despite all military, political and media whining that leaving was tantamount to another Vietnam, Biden was proving himself determined.

One problem with the departure, according to the Times, is the lack of “agreement from allies about repositioning American troops in other nearby countries.” Heaven forbid these soldiers should just come home. No, no. That sensible notion is unthinkable. The U.S. has an empire to run! And it’s not as if U.S. soldiers don’t already swarm places like Iraq – but that’s probably less than ideal, since the U.S. doubtless prefers to station these troops in Central Asian countries, the better to menace China. In passing, this same article mentions providing what’s euphemistically called “air support,” i.e. bombing to “prevent the country’s cities from falling to the Taliban.”

One wonders what Biden thinks about post-exit bombing. Has he nixed it outright? Does he still contemplate it? Or does he take a wait-and-see approach? Probably the latter, as it fits with his overall, halting mode of departure – busting up the May 1 deal with the Taliban, only to replace it with a September one. Still, it would be nice if the president came out and said, “we’re leaving by September 11, period. After that, there will be no more U.S. military activity in Afghanistan, including bombing.”

Biden’s administration “previously suggested that once U.S. troops left Afghanistan, air support would end as well,” the Times conceded June 9. But now, “the Pentagon is considering seeking authorization to carry out airstrikes…if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban.” Realistically, most of the country will fall to the Taliban, and if that’s our criteria for bombing, then the U.S. will be bombing Afghanistan for lifetimes to come. This would be a lousy way to retreat.

Indeed, the anonymous officials quoted by the Times say that Kabul’s “potential” fall would “most likely lead to military intervention after U.S. troops leave.” To this casual observer, there’s nothing “potential” about the fall of that city. It looks like a done deal. In fact, China recently warned its nationals to leave the country, in anticipation of a total Taliban takeover, which would presumably include Kabul’s fall. And if U.S. policy is that that fall triggers bombing, then, well, will the U.S. war on Afghanistan end in September? I don’t think so.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.