Afghan war box score: Has America won or lost?
With no real mention of victory, is this president’s proclaimed “responsible end” to the war, good enough? Counting the trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives lost many Americans wonder.
It's time for "the score" on this expensive conflict. What began as a quest to bring to trial one Osama bin Laden became a dubious lesson in foreign policy.
Afghan battleground: now and then
As the Obama administration oversees a new war in Iraq against ISIL, Afghanistan still exists, as a war-torn nation, as before. Not many know the tumultuous history of this mountainous fortress of warlords, nor do we readily recall Britain's or the Soviet Union's ousting from there. For Britain's part, that island empire interjected, and was banished from Afghanistan three times in between 1839 and 1919.
As for the Soviet Union, the Mujahedeen convinced its neighbor in only 10 years to get out and stay out of Afghan affairs. Given these and other lessons, it seems Barack Obama’s assertions America is the “indispensable nation” really means the US is above even learning from the mistakes of the past? How can we sum up briefly what Britain, the Soviet Union, or the American coalition faced then and now? Perhaps this quote by the legendary Nobel Prize laureate Rudyard Kipling should suffice for some intelligent observers:
“When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”
Please understand, Afghanistan is no place to win a war. For history's sake though (and to honor the fallen soldiers), let the record show America has been maybe the most dogged (or hard headed) would-be conqueror of this Islamic stronghold. As “responsible wars” go, the Bush and Obama-led coalition of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries will surely weigh the cost as too expensive some day. Today though, every American can score these policy games in terms of money and human suffering.
When I first began writing this article, I thought it might prove difficult to make a scoreboard of America’s investment in blood and money on the ground in Afghanistan. Now that I’ve looked at the criteria and stated objectives surrounding what was initially called “Operation Infinite Justice,” it’s really easy to reflect the “win-lose” as an American. All I need to do is look at the US objectives of what became “Operation Enduring Freedom” – and to weigh those against the situation now.
When President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress on October 7, 2001, the military mission in Afghanistan was fairly simply laid out. Our forces were charged with the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure there, the capture of al-Qaeda leaders, and cessation of all terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Added to this, the “impetus” for war was originally to bring to justice Osama bin Laden. So, from the onset, the Afghan War was about the destruction of al-Qaeda and the figurehead of the 9/11 attacks. Then the Taliban, which controlled the country, became our adversaries too, for what American administrations deemed “non-compliance” with the coalition’s demands.
The game of war that ensued in Afghanistan pitted forces from America, Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, NATO, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. If there’s ever in history been such an unbalanced “appearing” fight card, the forces arrayed against Osama bin Laden represent a marquee event. The following figures are taken from this paper (PDF).
Sum in dollars: 13 years since the onset commemorated this October 7, and the American taxpayer’s bill for Afghanistan stands at $2.2 trillion dollars, according to this nonpartisan Eisenhower Research Project study. Other estimates of the final costs are much, much higher.
Death toll, US forces: Since 2001 US military personnel (2349 to date) and civilian contractor death casualties have exceeded 5,000 killed in Afghanistan alone.
Wounded casualties, US: More than 50,000 military and civilian contractors suffering from wounds and medical problems have been medi-vaced from Afghanistan since 2001.
Civilian Deaths: Over 21,000 Afghan civilians and perhaps as many as 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed since 2001. The so-called “undeclared war” in Pakistan is actually a staggering foreign policy nightmare most know nothing about.
Civilian Refugees: It is estimated that perhaps as many as 3 million Afghans have fled their homes since 2001. That’s about 10% of the total population. The costs to neighboring nations receiving these refugees, can only be calculate decades from now.
Furthermore, on the “cost” side of the Afghan War equation, the final social, economic, and political costs of this war will be staggering, by all accounts. Beyond the military operations, since the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of thousands have been detained, this has led to massive mistrust of the United States. Muslims around the world are racially profiled. The so-called military industrial complex in America has and is profiteering alarmingly. Funding for defense is now that of the EPA, the Department of Labor, and the DOT combined, and there seems to be no end to the spending going on.
Versus US goals
Destruction of terrorist camps and infrastructure: At the time of the 9/11 attacks it was estimated there were 120 “camps” in Afghanistan and Pakistan in operation. Despite 13 years of near constant assault on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, there are still camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Just last month the US State Department said Pakistani jihadist group Harakat-ul-Mujahideen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan.
Capturing al-Qaeda leadership: Despite the many publicized accounts of al-Qaeda operatives caught in Afghanistan over the years, as recently as this month US officials confess key nodes and cells of that organization are still operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief, Jeh Johnson made statements to this effect.
Osama bin Laden: The courageous members of US Navy Seals (Seal Team Six) killed the al-Qaeda leader at his Abbottabad, Pakistan hideaway on May 2, 2011. His body was identified by officials in Afghanistan and then buried at sea within 24 hours, as is demanded in the Islamic tradition.
Did we win or lose?
This RT news report spotlights a 4X increase in casualties since President Obama took office. The news also reminds us of the rhetoric of this war, of the cowboy mentality that strummed America into a frenzy. Remembering when President George W. Bush talked about the “patient accumulation of successes,” that would lead to our ultimate victory, I cannot help but wonder how just “where” these successes can be found?
Stephen D. Biddle, American author and policy analyst, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations last year, encapsulates well the scorecard where the Taliban is concerned, and I quote where the author discusses the current stalemate in Afghanistan is concerned:
“Since outlasting the Taliban is unlikely, the only realistic alternative to eventual defeat is a negotiated settlement. “
So we see now, Afghanistan may not have spelled utter defeat for coalition nations, but it’s surely one of the biggest foreign relations mistakes the United States ever committed. “Winding down,” as Obama so often refers to our commitment there, really means an ongoing commitment beyond 2024. That is, if this “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement” between the US and Afghanistan is upheld, our role in the region will not end this year. And if other games are afoot, Americans may be in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Summing up, Afghanistan has historically been the key to controlling the rest of Southeast Asia. As such, the country has played a big role in the so-called “Great Game” of global domination in between great powers. Looking at America’s war on terror from this perspective, one where containing Russia (and or China) is a goal, perhaps this is the only scorecard in which the United States may conceivably have won in Afghanistan. In that sort of game, an ongoing military presence, in perpetuity, might seem worth these dire costs. At least for those intent on American and British imperialism, that is.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from the late Representative, Senator, and 1972 presidential candidate, George McGovern. Speaking on Vietnam and the current crisis just before he passed away, he said:
“The truth is that I oppose the Iraq war, just as I opposed the Vietnam War, because these two conflicts have weakened the U.S. and diminished our standing in the world and our national security.”
And we’re still at war, so what does your scorecard read?
Phillip Butler for RT
Phil Butler is journalist and editor, and a partner at the digital marketing firm, Pamil Visions PR. Phil contributes to the Huffington Post, The Epoch Times, Japan Today, and many others. He's also a policy and public relations analyst for Russia Today, as well as other international media. You can find Phil's blog at http://www.phillip-butler.com.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.