At 15 years and counting, the war in Afghanistan is by far America's longest war and among its most costly. We're draining our resources, sustaining military casualties and spending huge amounts of money as the conflict grinds to a stalemate.
No U.S. official seems to want to talk about our policy in Afghanistan and where we are going. The media has largely forgotten it. Basic questions about our national interests in that country, our objectives and how we are going to meet those objectives are largely ignored.
As our policy drifts, the situation in Afghanistan is dire.
The Afghan government is divided, ineffective in fighting corruption and in unifying and governing the country. Among many Afghans, we are not welcomed in their country. In denouncing the American military's recent use of a giant American bomb on an Afghanistan cave cluster occupied by ISIS militants, former president Hamid Karzai vowed to try to oust the U.S. from the country.
Much of the economy is illicit, driven by drugs and criminality.
As the war intensifies, the military situation is bleak. The Taliban are resurgent. They may not represent anything close to a majority of Afghans, but they have strong support in parts of the country and are not going away.
The Afghan military commanders have not been truthful about the readiness of their troops. They have been almost entirely on the defensive while the Taliban gain more territory. There are record casualties, including more than 100 deaths in a deadly attack this month that lead to the resignation of the defense minister and the Army chief of staff.
Our ally Pakistan is supporting elements of the Taliban. Iran and Russia remain active in the region. Russia sought unsuccessfully to gather representatives from China, Iran, Pakistan and India (but not the United States) to participate in peace talks.
There is talk of starting a peace process in which all the major players try to negotiate the end of the conflict. But the talk is vague, and nothing significant seems to be happening on the diplomatic front.
Under these difficult circumstances, Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces, has called for a surge of several thousand additional American troops.
One can understand why more troops, and more economic and political aid, would be sought. But from my point of view, we should know the answers to the basic questions about Afghanistan before we send more troops into harm's way and expend many more dollars.
We have about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan, down considerably from previous levels, but still a significant number. We have spent scores of billions of dollars, much of it to equip and train the Afghan National Defense and Security forces. But those forces have deep internal divisions and have been ineffective.
Under U.S. law, aid is subject to Afghanistan making progress in preventing corruption, fighting drug trafficking and improving human rights and women's rights. But the certifications are routinely approved every year, and the funds are made available, even though progress is by no means apparent.
We need to reassess where we are in Afghanistan. We need to demand answers to a series of questions. What are our interests in Afghanistan? What are our objectives? What is our strategy for meeting those objectives? In short: What is the end game? How long are we prepared to stay there? And for what purpose?
If we decide to stay in Afghanistan, we have a full plate. We need to find ways to fix the frictions that are rampant within the Afghan government. And the Afghan government must demonstrate a sense of urgency and support for reform.
The Pakistanis have to decide whose side they're on. We have to stop sending money and equipment to the Afghan forces that end up in the hands of our adversaries because of corrupt Afghan leadership. We must insist the government deal with corruption, act with basic competence and govern the country effectively.
Without doubt, President Donald Trump inherited a tough, messy situation in Afghanistan. But he has said little about the situation and has done nothing to clarify objectives and policies. We should not expect miracles or quick solutions, but we should demand clear objectives and goals. The lack of clarity in U.S. policy and strategy is not fair to our military forces, not fair to the American people and ultimately not fair to the people of Afghanistan.