Konduz, Afghanistan just fell to a force comprised predominantly of Taliban members augmented by an alarming number of ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters. The setback for Afghan’s security forces (ASF) is serious on several levels. Konduz had been one of the principal areas targeted by American forces in the initial invasion, in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. During the operation, the Taliban suffered a symbolic loss there. Regaining control of Konduz, roughly the size of Chicago, after all these years, is conversely a huge symbolic victory for them.
The assault — no doubt led by Taliban commanders — was comprised of ISIS and Al Qaeda fighters and will most assuredly serve as a guide for future “combined arms” type offensive actions. ISIS and Al Qaeda influence over the Taliban additionally carries with it the potential for this formerly regional terror group to consider an international role in pressing Islamic extremist objectives.
Adding to the negative effects of this action, the defeat — on the anniversary of Afghanistan’s newly elected president’s first year of leadership — strengthens the message to Afghan nationals that the Afghan government cannot protect them.
America sent in air assets and conducted “force protection” strikes after Konduz fell, however, in announcing these actions, Obama administration officials stressed, almost apologetically, that the strikes were not offensive in nature.
It is difficult for the layman to understand the actions taken by US forces in Afghanistan since there is such a noticeable lack of overall strategy. America seems to be so anxious for ASF government forces to take over that any action on our part is deemed regrettable and something for which apologies should be proffered.
America has had a presence in Afghanistan since 2001. The impetus and underlying morality that spurred our invasion can be argued, but few feel our actions were unjustified. Indeed, the majority of Afghans also welcomed us.
Soon, however, as is the nature of virtually every American military action, once things on the ground are safe and secure, policy makers and State Department officials take over. The predictable result has been a steady loss of clarity regarding mission objectives. Few today can articulate a reason for a sustained American presence in Afghanistan. Americans are weary of our mission there, and virtually no one believes Afghanistan will be a successful democracy once America and its allies withdraw completely.
Afghanistan is simply one more example of an honorable mission followed by confusion and a failure of American policy. Attention today is focused on Syria and the setback America has experienced at the hands of Russia. And while the emphasis in relation to Operation Enduring Freedom seems to be saving the administration from political embarrassment, the fact is human lives are at stake — and these particular lives belong to individuals who have suffered a great deal to stand by us throughout this operation.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the legitimacy of America’s invasion of Afghanistan, we took responsibility for the ultimate outcome. America owes the Afghan people. America used Afghanistan and the Afghan people to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Honor and common decency dictate that America see this obligation through to the end.
Administration officials would have us believe the Afghan army is fully capable of defending the nation. They would also have us believe a legitimately elected democratic government in Kabul has the situation well in hand.
The facts, however, happen to be quite the opposite. Although President Ashraf Ghani is a huge improvement over Hamid Karzai, and is, by all accounts, committed to a stable secure Afghanistan, he simply hasn’t had time to turn the tide. As reported in Homeland Security Today, he is even having trouble convincing his own First Vice President Rashid Dostum and supporter, Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqeq.
These two former Northern Alliance commanders are in the process of readying their old militia armies to defend Northern Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban. They operate under no illusions that the ASF will be able to do so.
Unfortunately, under the Obama administration, America has no clear objective or strategy in Afghanistan. It would seem our most immediate goal is to continue with the scheduled drawdown, while using every means available to convince the American people that we have accomplished that which we set out to do some 15 years ago.
When we leave, we will leave a divided government that has not had the time to coalesce under Ghani’s leadership. We will leave an Afghan army that has no clear vision, and, due to the mixed messages sent by the Obama administration as to the legitimacy of the Taliban as a political party, leaving them with not knowing who the enemy is. We will leave a resurgent Taliban which has now formed a loose alliance with ISIS and Al Qaeda and has tallied unimaginable victories, such as that in Konduz. We will leave a country, at least half of which is readymade for training and organization, for Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Additionally Afghanistan, which is on the verge of Balkanization, will almost certainly split north and south, and any of our former allies who are unable to escape to the north will be slaughtered by Taliban members out for blood revenge.
Regardless of the political fallout for Obama, America must not leave Afghanistan. We must send a clear signal to the Taliban that we are all in and we will stay as long as it takes for that country to become secure. A strong leader will be able to convince the American people that we must do this — that we cannot walk away from people who put their trust in us. We still have time to do the right thing. If we fail them just so a politician can be seen to have won, then consequences will be dire … for both the Afghan people and for America.
Contributing Writer Godfrey Garner is a veteran special operations counterintelligence officer who retired from US Special Forces in 2006. He served two military tours and six civilian government related tours in Afghanistan. His work there most recently was as a counter-corruption analyst. Garner is author of, Danny Kane and the Hunt for Mullah Omar, and, The Balance of Exodus.