The news just keeps getting worse in Afghanistan for the United States. Brave New Foundation's Rethink Afghanistan project has warned for years that the premises of a counterinsurgency there were unrealistic and unworkable, and the ability of a handful of bad actors to completely seize control of the narrative with atrocious actions validates our warnings. The "hearts and minds" effort has completely melted down over the past few weeks, illustrating once again that this war isn't making us safer and it's not worth the costs.
Yesterday, the Taliban suspended talks with the U.S. in Qatar due to the U.S.'s failure to follow through on releasing five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. They also balked at the U.S.'s demand that the Taliban engage with the Karzai government, calling such a move "pointless." Karzai, for his part, is now demanding that U.S. troops get out -- now -- of Afghan rural areas and stay on their bases, likely in response to the butchering of 16 civilians by a U.S. military member in Kandahar.
"I'm really shocked, these are two pieces of very bad news," said one senior western diplomat in Kabul. "It's probably the bleakest day of my time here in Afghanistan."
What you are seeing is the latest of any number of indicators over the last few months that the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is in total collapse.
Two years into the escalated war effort, the rate of attacks initiated by insurgents continues to grow, up 14 percent in 2011 over 2010. And, when you consider that the prior year had already seen a 65 percent increase, it's clear that the promises of increased security and reduced civilian and military casualties fed to the American people by the Pentagon were just so much garbage propaganda. Lest we forget, Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in December 2009, prior to the latest escalation, that the new strategy "must -- and will -- improve security for the Afghan people and limit both future civilian and military casualties."
Since then, almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops have been killed, 10,680 have been wounded, and countless Afghans have been killed, maimed or driven from their homes by the conflict. Our government has charged us $2 billion a week for this fiasco, right in the middle of an absolutely vicious jobs crisis. Mission accomplished? Hardly. Despite the continued lies from the Pentagon, the war effort is continuing to fail to bring security to Afghanistan or stop the march of the Taliban.
This context makes the most recent litany of disasters that much more alarming:
- January 2012: a video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead insurgents--a clear violation of U.S. military and international law--sparks widespread outrage.
- February 20: U.S. forces burn copies of the Koran near a detention center in Parwan.
- Massive protests break out across Afghanistan resulting in several deaths, including the execution-style killing of two American servicemembers inside a heavily guarded Afghan ministry building, likely by one of their Afghan colleagues.
- March 11: A U.S. soldier goes on a rampage in Kandahar, killing 16 civilians before surrendering at his base.
- Today, Karzai demanded the immediate removal of U.S. troops from rural areas as the Taliban cut off talks with the U.S.
The Associated Press analyzed Karzai's demand to remove U.S. troops from rural Afghanistan thus:
"...It would essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations."
Come off it, people. We haven't even won over the hearts and minds of the security forces we're paying and training, much less the Afghan street, and the events of the last months make even saying the phrase, "hearts and minds" into a cynical joke. Protecting the population, by the way, requires you to actually reduce the total number of civilians being killed, maimed and displaced by the conflict. It's not happening.
And by the way, Karzai's not the only one who wants U.S. troops out of rural Afghanistan ASAP. A majority of Americans say they want U.S. troops out ASAP, and 60 percent say the war hasn't been worth fighting.
The war for hearts and minds is over. It's lost in Afghanistan, and it's lost at home. The president and Congress should do us all a favor and stop letting people get killed for it, and get our people out of there.