Editorial: Brutal attacks in Afghanistan underscore futility of U.S. role

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Guest Editorial

Three recent attacks in Afghanistan, waged by the Islamic State, a new player there, and the Taliban, a very old element in the interplay of forces in the country, should make something plain to Americans: It is time for us to conclude that we have done as much useful there as we can, and that it is time for us to go.

The fact that some Americans are making money and gaining career advancement from U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is far from sufficient reason for us to stay.

The three attacks were all different, but equally negative in both their impact and their implications. The first was on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, the capital. At least 43 were killed, including some Americans. The Taliban claimed that one. A second assault was on a Save the Children office in Jalalabad, claimed by the Islamic State. The third, which occurred Saturday, was carried out by an ambulance filled with bombs, in Kabul. It killed more than 100 and was claimed by the Taliban.

The United States has more than 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, accompanied by at least an equivalent number of employees of American contractor firms. The U.S. plan is to try to train and equip a sufficient number of Afghan armed forces not only to maintain security in the country, but also to find and kill the Taliban and Islamic State forces that contest control of the country with the Afghan government.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government is divided, weak and corrupt. It does not even hold authority over its own appointed officials. The most prominent among them have their own tribal or family militias which enable them easily to maintain their independence from the Kabul government’s control.

In the meantime, the position of the Afghan government is that everything that is going wrong in Afghanistan in the security area is the fault of Pakistan. Pakistan disagrees. Its government, too, is a mass of competing elements. It does see Afghanistan as a neighboring territory that it doesn’t want to fall under the influence of India, its principal rival, and it does play games by giving aid and shelter to Taliban elements. But blaming all of Afghanistan’s ills on Pakistan is too simple.

American media are full of accounts of the Vietnam War, including the movie “The Post” and Ken Burns’ series on PBS. We are reminded, first, of the endless character of the Vietnam War, expensive in lives, cash and national unity. Second, and more to the point, we are reminded of the lack of courage on the part of successive American presidents, even when it was clear that all we could do in Vietnam wasn’t going to work, to withdraw the U.S. forces and involvement in that losing venture. U.S. entanglement there went on for decades, until 1975. America has been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001, coming up to 17 years now.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 29