There are actually times when it’s worth paying close attention to what President Donald Trump says.
On Afghanistan, for example, he has clearly spelled out his premise: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”
And his promise: “The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms. … Retribution will be fast and powerful.”
Trump’s typically cartoon-like vision of warfare in the 21st Century, does stir moviehouse memories of Tom and Jerry or The Roadrunner in which bombs and bullets, booms and flashes and clouds of smoke and dust follow, but do not capture or kill, a tiny mouse or a long-legged bird.
Trump’s plan for Afghanistan is essentially to turn it into a free-fire zone for his terrorist hunt-down, as if the country were some Wiley Coyote landscape. The funny thing is, the topography of Afghanistan does look in many places remarkably like the American southwest, New Mexico. The unfunny thing is, its mountain and desert landscapes are not just empty backdrops. They are full of people, and stepping up our counter-terrorism program is going to kill more of them, and not just the so-called “bad guys.”
As for the Government in Kabul, Trump chiefly talks about it as the “key to implementing” his military plan. If it gets in his way… he’s suggested he might then pull the plug.
But President Trump means to have his way in Afghanistan, which means exactly what?
Conceptually, he said, it means, “victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”
Later, we’ll consider the likelihood of any of these outcomes, but first I’d like to consider an entirely different question: what is there on this list for the Afghan people?
What’s their compensation, if you will, for turning their land over to a destructive game of drone and special forces whack-a-mole?
If the Battle of Mosul offers any insights, ordinary Afghans may wonder if any compensation will be enough. In Iraq, the strategic plan of Defense Secretary, former Marine General, Jim Mattis turned on 2 basic ideas: devolution of command responsibility and determination to “annihilate” the enemy.
What this meant on the ground was that more unit commanders were authorized to call in more “lethal force,”—air strikes, artillery or mortar shellings — which produced, in West Mosul, an enormous escalation in destruction of property and loss of life.
As for annihilation, Mattis’ declared intent was preventing ISIS fighters from escaping the battlefield to fight another day. So Iraqi forces encircled West Mosul, and the trapped ISIS fighters kept their human shields to the end. Tens of thousands of civilians died as the ISIS redoubt in West Mosul was obliterated.
Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and is the former Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, a network of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in US strategy in Afghanistan. A former State Department official, Matthew resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over US strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew served in Iraq; first in 2004-5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006-7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. When not deployed, Matthew worked on Afghanistan and Iraq policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002-8. Matthew’s writings have appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Defense News, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. The Council on Foreign Relations has cited Matthew’s resignation letter from his post in Afghanistan as an Essential Document. In 2010, Matthew was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling.
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