In the Graveyard of Empires: 19 Years of the Afghanistan War

The US started lobbing missiles in Afghanistan early in October and boots of soldiers were put on the ground on October 19th, 2001. 19 years of war means some of the soldiers fighting this never-ending war were not even born when it began. President Trump is currently reducing the number of troops in the country known as “the graveyard of empires.” Bringing American soldiers home is gaining popularity and it is long past time.

General Mattis writes about how the US military was caught off guard by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in his book, Call Sign Chaos. He recalls how in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he expected that the military would be sent to Afghanistan because it had been known to be a terror hotbed that was housing the ilk of Osama bin Laden and Islamic extremists for years.

There is never going to be a perfect solution to any issue in the imperfect world that we live in. The best we can do is carefully look at a situation and prescribe solutions where we minimize the harm. An unprecedented 19-year war with a poorly defined and ever-changing goal of winning is looking more like a failure.

Over two thousand American service members and over one thousand American contractors have lost their lives in this conflict.

The US has spent billions of dollars to beat the terrorist and stabilize the country. Yet Afghanistan is still brimming with violent attacks; they had over three thousand attacks in 2010 and over one thousand in 2018. Deaths of Afghanis from domestic violence caused by Islamic extremist and collateral damage reaches into the tens of thousands during the time we have been there spilling blood and treasure.

The Washington Post published a previously secret government report called The Afghanistan Papers. It sheds light on something that many of us have recognized over time—the war in Afghanistan was flubbed. The US government knew fairly quickly that it was a failure, and we kept spending money and blood in the “graveyard of empires” (aka Afghanistan).

James Dobbins is a former US diplomat quoted in the Afghanistan Papers as saying in 2016, “We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

General Mattis felt that the military’s role was to kill a specified enemy and leave. Whatever happened after that was not proper for him as a military man to worry about. However, Mattis watched more destabilization happening, less of a clear enemy, and a foggier definition of “winning” coming from Washington.

He recalls working towards one of the first basic goals of the Afghanistan war which was to take control of Rhino Base that would give US forces a stable starting area to fight Islamic terrorists in the country. He was thrown a confusing comment from a commanding officer that sternly told him they were not conducting an “invasion” of Afghanistan. That comment was, at best, a game of semantics that only hindered the military on the ground from having a clear vision of what they were doing. At worst, it was an indicator that higher-ups in the military and civilians back home had no idea what they were getting into.

General Douglas Lute served as the Afghanistan war czar for both Bush and Obama’s White House. He said in 2015, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan—we didn’t know what we were doing.”

The US didn’t have a clear end-goal to work towards in the Afghanistan war.

Without realizing what winning looks like, there never was a chance to plan an organized invasion and withdrawal. The military was blindsided by what was being asked of them after entering Afghanistan—organize a functioning civilized society complete with free markets and democratic government, in the desert that had no history of systems like this. In other words, they were asked to nation-build a democracy in one of the most dangerous and unstable places in the world.

Trump has not been serious about governing in many ways and has not ended all wars. However, he has NOT started a new war. America is providing funds to Saudi Arabia as they fight a war in Yemen. Since 2015, the US has assisted the Saudis in committing death and destruction that can be described as genocide. But American boots are not on the ground in Yemen.

Under Trump’s leadership, Republicans are regaining the correct mantel of anti-war or—at least—skepticism of never-ending policing of the world. The Conservative Political Action Conference back in February of 2020 was bursting with enthusiasm for less war. During Trump’s speech the room chanted “bring them home” in reference to American troops fighting forever-wars on far away foreign sand. That is a welcomed difference from the war-hawk neocons who dominated DC Republican policy 15 years ago.

The Afghanistan War has been fought for 19 years and it’s too long. We can’t ask soldiers to die in a war that is so old, they weren’t alive when it started. Bring them home.

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Shelby Wright

Shelby is a writer and reporter for The Libertarian Republic. She is a recent graduate of Missouri Southern State University where she studied political science and international politics. She was an intern for Austin Petersen’s Senate campaign and president of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at MSSU.

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