It’s time to end unnecessary wars
BY FORMER LT. COL. DANIEL L. DAVIS – The Hill
“Great powers don’t fight endless wars,” President Trump said at his State of the Union speech, a clear allusion to the United States’ multiple perpetual wars, of which Afghanistan is the longest. Though many of the usual suspects among Washington’s stale foreign policy establishment are predictably poo-pooing the idea, realities on the ground in both locations strongly justifies bringing the wars to an end.
In his address to Congress, Trump detailed the enormous cost the United States has borne in blood and treasure over the “almost 19 years” American troops have been fighting in Afghanistan. Trump has directed his administration to “reach a political settlement,” by holding “constructive talks with…the Taliban,” but, predictably, this progress has received pushback from those voices in Washington who would happily keep American troops in Afghanistan forever.
In December, Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) possibly the most outspoken advocate of remaining in Afghanistan indefinitely, warned thatgetting out would likely “pave the way to a second 9/11.” In an attempt to avoid the appearance of advocating permanent war, however,Graham added that “troop withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground,” and that “at the present…American troop withdrawals [would be] a high-risk strategy.”
Yet aside from the fact that troops on the ground do virtually nothing to prevent a new 9/11, as I’ve previously argued at The Washington Times, it is precisely an assessment of realities on the ground that argues most persuasively for a complete withdrawal.
As I observed, painfully, during my second combat deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 to 2011, it is a virtual impossibility for U.S. troops to locate and identify who among the local population is an insurgent or terrorist and who is simply a law-abiding citizen. Even when we were attacked, unless we caught the Taliban in the act, it was near-impossible to capture or kill the real perpetrators.
Often lost in the day-to-day grind of nearly 19 years of war is the fact that the original military mission Bush gave the military was effectively and successfully accomplished by the summer of 2002. Bush said the purpose of “these carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.” That mission was fully accomplished, the Taliban government that hosted al-Qaeda was destroyed, and Afghanistan disrupted as a terror base.
Fortunately, the United States can effectively counter any anti-American terror threats that emanate from Afghanistan to keep our country safe. American security is not maintained by sprinkling troops across the globe, but on the employment of an effective combination of all relevant aspects of American power to appropriate, achievable ends. Counterterrorism does not require a permanent ground presence.
When it comes to preventing future terror attacks, to address Graham’s concern, that means we conduct robust and perpetual diplomacy; engage in aggressive global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance actions; cooperate with friendly intelligence agencies of our friends and allies; and maintain seamless interaction between federal, state, and local law enforcement officials. Whenever this unparalleled capability identifies direct threats to U.S. security, our armed forces can, as appropriate, mount an effective and targeted strike to take out that threat, no matter where it originates.
I can personally attest to the fact having American boots on the ground in Afghanistan does virtually nothing to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States. And bear in mind there are scores of nations around the world plagued with a high terrorist presence; U.S. troops cannot possibly occupy them all. The truth is, we don’t need to occupy any of them to keep us safe here.
American security would be better served by ending the wasteful practice of billions annually on reckless and futile military interventions. To stop the pointless sacrifice of American blood abroad, we must end our “endless wars.” It’s past time to end the war in Afghanistan. Our safety is already effectively ensured by means other than occupying foreign lands. It is time to acknowledge the reality on the ground and stop wasting our most precious resources on peripheral military missions that cannot succeed and come at great cost to the United States.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.