In most accounts, Faryab Province in northcentral Afghanistan has come through a generation of endless wars relatively unscathed. A real boondocks of farmers, herders and poverty, it is recently suspected of maybe having developable oil. Still, Faryab seems far from the battleground provinces of eastern and southeastern Afghanistan.
Makes you wonder what kind of Special Forces mission was underway when two American soldiers, Master Sgt. Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa of Chicopee, Massachusetts, and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez of La Puente, California were killed.
Note to Trump: DeLeon-Figueroa’s family is from Puerto Rico and the Gonzales family has hidden from all contact with the news media, perhaps from fear of having ties exposed to someplace south of the border. But both these Green Berets volunteered to serve, fight and die for their country. Our country.
It is a question many Americans reflexively ask every time they hear of an American soldier dying in Afghanistan, “Why? What is the mission in Afghanistan?” President Trump’s declared mission is to get America out, even if it means abandoning both of the goals that have always been the reasons we are there in force.
They are (1) to allow Afghanistan to become a civil, democratic member of the global economic and political communities and (2) to search out and destroy Islamist terrorist threats to the United States still based there.
To achieve the first goal, we have trained and helped Afghan government military and police forces to fight off the Taliban, to fend off its vision of a fundamentalist Islamic Afghanistan with limited personal freedom and limited interaction with the wicked political and financial world orders.
After 18 years, the government and its international support have fought the Taliban to a standoff. No more than that. And Washington is tired of it. Which means, the Taliban’s won. Taliban spokesman Sohail Shaheen told CBS News as much. The deaths of Sgts. DeLeon-Figueroa and Gonzales, he said, would have a “positive impact” on the talks, now in their ninth round, between the Taliban and an American team led by Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad. He said the killings demonstrated that “it is very necessary to put an end to the war.” But by that, he means an end to an American role in the war. Ending the war entirely, may to the Taliban, be a different question.
A timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals has reportedly been worked out. So has a Taliban promise to cease cooperation with Al Qaeda and any other Islamist terrorist group menacing the United States.
But in this negotiation, the U.S. has always had three wishes: that easy one, the always potentially wishy-washy Taliban promise to steer clear of anti-U.S. terrorism. And two more harder ones: Taliban agreement to a complete cease fire in Afghanistan and agreement that the Taliban will quickly start talks with the Afghan government about the country’s future.
Like our two basic war aims, building a democratic Afghanistan and crushing the terrorist threat there, our two basic negotiating aims – a cease fire and civil negotiations over the country’s future – are still unfulfilled.
People who have always thought of themselves as America’s friends wonder why the Trump White House has suddenly put the cart of a timetable for troop withdrawals ahead of that pair of horses, the Taliban and the government, with no idea of how they will pull together into the future, and virtually no way to enforce our wishes.
Pamela Constable is The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shuttles back and forth between bases in Kabul and Islamabad. She previously served as a South Asia bureau chief and most recently covered immigration in the Washington area for several years. Her books on Pakistan and South Asia, Fragments of Grace and Playing With Fire have been very well reviewed, with the latter being regarded as one of the most authoritative analyses of Pakistan in print.