Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate

Jul 23, 2015 · 117 comments
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
For years in his community, I've been one of the voices asserting that Afghanistan is a lost cause. The moment we leave it will be overrun by Taliban. Immense distractions for all the years of our efforts to keep this from happening have made the efforts meaningless -- distractions caused by the political dysfunction of a nation that's not really a nation to begin with, except that it's on a map and has a name.

The alternative now is to remain, but this will be a forever commitment, far greater than the one we made with Korea. The duration may well endure until Mr. Obama leaves office, because he clearly hasn't the slightest idea of what to do about it and lacks the will to even try.

We should leave Afghanistan now and entirely. It was a dreadful mistake to occupy it after punishing the Taliban for providing a safe-haven for Qaeda and 9/11.
Dermot (Babylon, Long Island, NY)
Once again Craig Geary's insightful blog hits one out of the ball park. Keep your many 'Comments' flowing Craig. You always tell it like it is. If only the Presidential candidates would be so honest.
An American Veteran
1965 - 1967
Helen Walton (The United States)
Maybe it's time give the opportunity to Afghanistan to deal with its own problems in the country by its own, the United States did not provide this capability to Afghanistan for many years, but most that it gave as the result it is thousands of dead American soldiers.
Peter (LI, NY)
An old saying is that one can bring the horse to the water but one cannot force it to drink. The billions invested in training Afghan army and police didn't build neither the skills nor the fighting will to protect their country. It is evident that a large part of Afghans are inclined to support the Taliban rather than the government. Apparently, the Afghan army and police is also split in their support for the government and Taliban and show presence as to have an income rather than to fight.
NATO and US cannot and should not micromanage Afghanistan but rather let the people determine their own preference. It is beyond doubt that Afghans resent Western armies presence but welcome the Western taxpayers' free money that keeps a corrupt government sending unwilling soldiers to fight for a cause they don't believe in.
carlson74 (Massachyussetts)
The United States armed forces have no real experience in the kind of fighting that is happening in Afghanistan or Iraq. That is the fact of the matter. We would be better off allowing those forces fight as their opponents do. Face it the Petreaus training concept does not work and been a big failure.
Patrick Sorensen (San Francisco)
The problems we face in Afghanistan are similar to the ones we faced in Vietnam. In Vietnam, every time we escalated, so did the Russians and the Chinese.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, every time we have success, more young jihadi fighters join the cause. They are funded by fundamentalists that were made rich by selling us oil.

Just as in Vietnam, it's a case of "Not in my backyard!" and exacerbated by political opportunists who simply want the grab the power made vulnerable by the vacuum we caused.

Go figure.
DCBarrister (Washington, DC)
It's sadly ironic that Candidate Obama circa 2008 ridiculed Bush's military misadventures, and now President Obama's military misadventures in Afghanistan are looking exactly the same.

What goes around...
R.Kenney (Oklahoma)
Why is the Afghanistan Army, supposedly trained and armed by professionals unable to even maintain a small degree of parity with the taliban who are mostly untrained farmers.
Tad Ornstein (Hyde Park, NY)
Because they don't have a deep enough belief in what they are doing. Those who believe are strong. Those who doubt are weak.
judgeroybean (ohio)
Well, the Bush/Cheney/McCain/Graham model isn't working anywhere we've tried it: Massive troop deployments, "shock & awe", billions in aid, most of which end up in the bank accounts of corrupt officials, doubling the boots-on-the-ground when things get shaky, training, training and more training for the county-in-question's armed forces. We draw down our troops, and it's worse than if we never went there. And yet the Republicans come up with excuse after excuse for why their strategy doesn't work.
We need to look back at what worked in Vietnam; our "implacable enemy" is now a great trading partner. And you know what did it? What always does it, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's and Taco Bell. American fast-food franchises open the doors and soon Walmart, Chevrolet and Holiday Inn are soon to follow. "Finger-Lickin'-Good" diplomacy works better than bullets.
Michael F (Yonkers, NY)
It was Obama who called Afghanistan the good war, the one he wanted to fight. Remember?
Steve (Dallas)
Afghanistan: The Forgotten War of the 21st Century. I have yet to hear a presidential candidate discuss Afghanistan. Instead, I hear discussions of war with Iran. Why would we even consider war with a third Middle Eastern nation when we haven't even resolved the first two?

And how long will Congress fund the Afghans? That's the question we need to be asking. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (a/k/a communist Afghanistan) did not fall when Soviet troops left in 1988. It fell in 1992 when the Russians pulled funding and the government was no longer able to pay the troops.

Likewise, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will not fall once all US troops and 'advisers' leave; it will fall once Congress decides to cut funding.

Note, the horrors of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan paled in comparison to the civil war that followed. I dread the civil war that will follow our forgotten war.
Yoda (DC)
Afghanistan: The Forgotten War of the 21st Century. I have yet to hear a presidential candidate discuss Afghanistan

could it be that because Iran has a population of about 90 mn while Afganistan's is about 10? There are implications here that those demanding "action" in Iran would rather not mention or, for that matter, think about.
Kalidan (NY)
This photograph is producing guffaws, triggering much mirth in the Pakistani military/intelligence establishment that finances the Taliban and has a vested interest in keeping Afghanistan dangerous, unsafe, drug addled, chaotic, nihilistic, and a hotbed for every kind of drug peddler, gun trader, and assorted degenerate. These hapless people look - mysteriously all at once - like misfit storm troopers and dramatically alien in a brown landscape of dust, stone, and scrub.

What the photo cannot show is that a good number of people plain did not show up to work that day, and those who did seemed strangely hopped on drugs of a large variety. I does not show that every one of them is corrupt, goes only after the weak and defenseless, and runs away at the first sign of the Taliban (who too scurry back to the safe haven of Pakistan at the first sign of American troops).

We are not equipped to deal with tribal, internecine warfare. When we think we are, we produce effects such as the ones in the photo. I commend President Obama for using drones to greater capacity to contain, rather than try to outright win this. The solution to Afghanistan is not these keystone cops. They are in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - which we must without further ado - plain rattle (I think this might actually involve a quarantine, and a freezing of assets). Right now, we are coddling them, and willingly colluding in a dangerous co-dependency.

Harry Eagar (Maui)
Not a surprise. We never learn. From China in the 1940s to Vietnam in the 1950s and '60s to Iraq in the 2000s, if the government offers nothing to its people worth having, the people will not support the government.

Once the US props are withdrawn, the collapse will be instantaneous.

And while no one will notice or care what happens in Afghanistan, wait till the same thing happens with the Saudi armed forces, which also will not fight when called to do so, which will be soon.
Mike (boston, MA)
These poor guys in the picture. Nothing seems to even fit them. Are these uniforms from the US? Also, they must feel like real heels. I hope they don't feel like they signed their own death certificate...
mford (ATL)
I pity secular Afghans and have nothing but respect for Afghan troops who still take up arms (even if only for a paycheck) in defense of a feckless central government and the dream of a united country, but theirs is an absolutely futile cause. Nearly every official in the country, from top to bottom, is corrupt. Warlords will always fill in the void, because there is no other way to keep any semblance of order in the isolated lands beyond the major cities, which will themselves always be vulnerable to attacks from a Taliban that cannot possibly be defeated. It is a hopeless situation and will only change, if ever, from within, and only then after the bloody civil war that the US interrupted in 2001 is carried to completion.
Greg (Austin, Texas)
The US has been in Foreverstan (Afghanistan and the Middle East) for 35 years. What have we learned? Apparently not much and there is no apparent evidence of desire to learn, is there?
There are 2.5 million afghan refugees spread around the world. There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people. And how many millions of afghans have died since 1980 at our hands? How many homes and businesses have we destroyed? Does anyone really imagine that afghans don't hate us? How much more misery can we create?
If only the Russians were defeated, things would be fine, wouldn't they? (Give arms to Al Queda and the Taliban.) If only the warloads could be controlled, things would be fine? (Send more arms.) If we could only defeat Al Queda? (Send more arms.) If we could only defeat the Taliban? (Send more arms.) If there could be elections? If we could stop the growth of opium? If the elected president would be more amenable? Etc.
The US policies in Foreverstan (including Afghanistan) have failed. These people hate us and want us out of their culture. The US should leave now. We have killed enough Muslims.
Yoda (DC)
I agree. May the Taliban come back to power and solve the refuge, economic and human rights problems. Plus, who knows, they may even offer to serve as a base for Al Queda or ISIS! May the US be kicked out of Afganistan and may an indigenous force come to power!
KarlosTJ (Bostonia)
Afghanistan is a backwards 7th world country with no interest in being a civilized nation. So long as their government bows to the deranged utterances of a 7th century so-called "Prophet", it will be forever doomed.

There is no respect for human life or human values, in Afghanistan. And that comes straight from the "Prophet" who ordered his followers to kill any who disagreed with his utterances. When those are the beliefs you obey, you get something like Afghanistan.
Samsara (The West)
Have you ever BEEN to Afghanistan?? I visited there in 1978, and Kabul was an incredibly beautiful city, rich in history and culture. Many women -- most of the young ones-- wore Western-style clothing. Thousands of women attended the universities and were training for professional careers.

Yes, Afghanistan was a tribal society in some areas outside the cities, but that was their ancient way of life and it worked for them.

That was before the "great Western world powers", the USSR and the USA decide dto invade (the Soviet Union) and to defeat the Soviets (the USA). To accomplish our goals, we empowered cruel warlords and imported radical fundamentalist crazies.

Now the once great civilizations of the Middle East are in ruins, destroyed by the barbarians who crave the oil under their lands.

It's just too much when barbarian buffoons, Know-Nothings, describe one of these civilizations as "backward." They probably haven't even read a single book about Afghanistan, for example, yet they are setting their ignorant selves up to judge a society that had universities and great art when their ancestors were ignorant peasants who at least had excuses for their lack of knowledge.
Yoda (DC)
Samsara, I think you are underestimating the indigenous nature of the Taliban and fundamentalists. These are, as much a reaction against modernity, secularization and development, as to USSR and US "imperialism".
KarlosTJ (Bostonia)
Samsara: Are you comparing the idyllic (tribal) lifestyle and culture of 1978 Afghanistan with the barbaric (tribal) lifestyle and culture of 2015 Afghanistan?

Bill M (California)
Mr. Goldstein seems to hang the struggle and poor showing in Afghanistan on the Afghans but who are all the experts who have run the show in Afghanistan for the past 14 or 15 years and who have announced our "victorious accomplishments" in taking land and training Afghans? Where have these experts disappeared after fifteen years of spending billions by contractors and expending lives on fruitless engagements? It is not the Afghans we should solely hold to account for our failures. The Pentagon, CIA, and State Department should be able to furnish us with the rosters of individuals who have sent us into the Afghanistan fray based on faulty knowledge and poor understanding of what we were faced with.

Isn't it about time to hold the Bush/Cheney hawks and their Obama follow-ons responsible for the debacles and destruction they have led us into and that now find us losing ground to the terrorists because of the short-sighted strategies we used in surging into wars whose ramifications we had no real understanding of?
Joanne Rumford (Port Huron, MI)
"Periodically cut off by the Taliban, the soldiers have not always been able to evacuate casualties out of the district. Their dead often decompose under the hot sun for days — a particular source of anxiety, given the Muslim imperative to conduct burials quickly. Sometimes, soldiers have beseeched local men in the town to accept their dead and contact foreign groups like the International Committee of the Red Cross that might be able to get the bodies back to the provincial capital more quickly."

"Lieutenant Javed said the prospect of remaining trapped even in death weighed heavily on him."

"“I am not afraid of death,” he said. “But I am afraid of this sort of death. Will your body ever arrive safely to your family?”"

I think every U.S. soldier feels this way in any war even left behind.
Todd (Williamsburg VA)
Are any of the commenters here today - mostly calling for US withdrawal, restraint, and respect for others' prerogative to self govern - the same people who posted a few days about calling for us to become active interventionists on the high seas, bringing the world into line with our laws, values, and priorities for the world's oceans? Just thought I'd ask.
j. von hettlingen (switzerland)
It looks as though the Afghan army is as feckless as its Iraqi counterpart. The only difference is that the Iraqi army is Shia-led, while the Afghan security forces are multi-ethnic. The Pashtuns are under pressure from their tribes and clans not to join the Afghan National army (ANA).
Those who desert the ANA can easily join other forces. Iran is looking for young unemployed Afghans to fight in Iraq and Syria. Islamist extremists recruit also Sunnis in Afghanistan to fight for ISIS. Regional warlords recruit also for their own army. Perhaps it explains why the ANA has difficulty in finding new recruits.
Cheryl (<br/>)
The questions is: to what extent are we willing to treat Afghanistan as if it were a US territory where we must impose US law? As in accepting major responsibility for arms and military support, and civil reconstruction and schooling? This while we continue to support Pakistan, too, which seems to insure a ready source of Taliban resources. Are we willing to be a permanent presence?? And what will this do to us? It isn't that there are not valiant Afghani troops, or that some of our secular goals are not shared by some Afghanis....... Isn't it possible to take a really hard look at what has been and what's most likely. We cannot rollback our Iraqi invasion and involvement in Afghanistan: can we be honest at least about the likely effects what we do or do not do. I thought we learned at least one lesson from Vietnam: obsession with "winning" - or not 'losing' drives poor political decisionmaking.
hamza (canada)
FYI, pakistan is keeping no more talibans after the army operation and the country is in complete peace. So please dont compare it with afghanistan. And pakistan is a nuclear country and will be the in top 7 emerging world economies by 2050.
Yoda (DC)
and the country is in complete peace

is that a joke?
W.Wolfe (Oregon)
America's continued presence in Afganistan is one more example of a doomed Policy. We cannot try to orchestrate or design a Society that Afgans won't live in, or want to be a solid part of. The complexity of the endless tribal bloodbath that is Afganistan dates to practically the beginning of Time. They don't want us, or our "vision for them", there.

And the U.S., sounding trumpets and waving flags, goes in to "train" these Afgan Troops ... and, for the BILLIONS of tax dollars we spend, just who is benefitting from this endeavor ?? DEFENSE CONTRACTORS. And that is all.

The "average" Afgan soldier is most likely the saddest of people. On top of a complete lack of motivation to fight, his family is starving, and he can't even get a paycheck to send to them. While that is the Afgan Government's fault, the U.S. is funding these "Leaders" in their Shell-Game of Politics.

Let Afganistan determine it's own future, without our money or our blood. Considering how far the American economy is still in the Red, we need to change course.
No one should be surprised at this. The Taliban is now and always has been an arm of the Pakistani Army's intelligence service ISI. Pakistan does not now and never has desired even a stable government in Afghanistan, much less a viable democracy. A viable democracy would surround the Pakistani feudal oligarchy with democracies on both sides, inviting invidious comparisons that they consider intolerable. Of course, this puts the US Government in the peculiar but, so far, not untenable position of supplying arms and money to a government that then supplies arms and money to one of its creations that then use the arms and money to attack our troops and intelligence agents in Afghanistan! I suppose this is going to continue for the forseeable future. At least I see no evidence that the US Government will stop doing it.
Don (Charlotte NC)
At least the Russians were smart enough to leave Afghanistan after 9 years. The US is still there after 12 years with 9,800 troops.
Barton Palmer (Atlanta Georgia)
Time for an end to the arrogant American assumption that a new Afghan "nation" could be built that would encourage its citizens to defend it.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

South Vietnamese Armed Forces
Iraqi Army
Afghan Army and Police

All uniformly inferior to their fellows fighting for the other side. I wonder why?

How long must we persist in this idiocy?
Michael F (Yonkers, NY)
It seems about every generation or so. You left out Korea.
tony silver (Kopenhagen)
The major cause of tension and extremism, not only in the Middle East region but in the whole world, is Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would take away much of the motivation for terrorism and the radicalization of Muslims in the World. Everyone's been saying that for years. We should start sending security bills to Tel-Aviv.
mford (ATL)
Probably so, but it wouldn't change a thing in Afghanistan.
Alcibiades (Oregon)
The Taliban's greatest crime, it reduced poppy production in Afghanistan, now that US has stepped in, poppy production is back to "desirable levels".

Americans are just given the where and the who, we will be invading, never the real reasons why.
Richard Heckmann (Bellingham MA 02019)
If the title alone of this article doesn't make you shutter, "you have become uncomfortably numb"
CLJ (Cambridge, MA)
If the Afghan government can improve life for the security forces, the desertion rate may fall. First, if members of the forces and/or their families can be paid on schedule by working with banks available to them, starvation of families would become rarer. Second, if medical support for the troops can be improved, the morale of the troops should become better.
These projects are enormous, requiring a lot of time and effort by the government and many people working together, but they have the possibility of strengthening the security forces and the population as well.
e.s. (cleveland, OH)
We are already on the hook financially until around 2025. Perhaps you may have forgotten, we have people and infrastructure needs here also.
CLJ (Cambridge, MA)
I wasn't trying to suggest that we undertake these projects for the Afghan people, but that they do it for themselves, if they possibly can.
DCBarrister (Washington, DC)
When Barack Obama announced his military surge in Afghanistan, he made promises that he has miserably failed to keep. When Barack Obama took to the airwaves to tell us he was going to degrade and destroy ISIS, he didn't even have a PLAN to do either.

How many more of these articles about disintegrating alliances falling to an every growing terrorist-driven enemy will we have to endure before we as a nation call for Obama's resignation?
DCBarrister (Washington, DC)
And Afghanistan is Barack Obama's "smart" war.
How's that working out?

Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq and now Afghanistan.

And what does Obama do for an encore to these historic blunders?
Elevates Iran and Cuba to diplomatic normalcy, and gives Iran the keys to the family car and no curfew.
mford (ATL)
You really give Obama credit for the chaos in all those countries? You really think he did all that with a couple of speeches? This chaos was a long time coming, DCBarrister, and Obama could not have prevented it. The dam was already bursting when that Tunisian street vendor self-immolated a few years ago and triggered the cascade. US and other western policies are to blame, sure, but really it's just the tide of history you're witnessing. Blame Obama all you want, won't change a thing.
Mike Edwards (Providence, RI)
"Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq and now Afghanistan."

All should be the full responsibility of the US Government? With the US providing all policing and military needs, such that subversives are forever eliminated?
Should not these countries take on some of the responsibility themselves and not become dependent on the US Government?
Dependency on the US Government is rarely a solution for anything.

"and gives Iran the keys to the family car"
That would be a BMW or a Mercedes, as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel is fully supportive of the Iran deal.
NYCLAW (Flushing, New York)
Are you suggesting that these nations were Obama's blunders or GW's blunders? I think they are GW's blunders since he was the one who unraveled Iraq. Under his command, bad stuff just happened.

Do you think we should go to war with Iran? Like most Americans, I no longer view these trillion-dollar wars with any favor. Further, U.S. should not go to war for Saudis or Israelis.
NYCLAW (Flushing, New York)
Another lesson from Afghanistan? Nation building is very expensive and not likely to succeed. Japan and Germany are the exceptions, not the rule.
DCBarrister (Washington, DC)
Why don't you tell Barack Obama that nation building in Afghanistan won't work? Candidate Obama said the same thing you're saying, but President Obama has doubled down on Bush's neocon nation building nonsense.

Was Obama lying in 2008? Or is he lying now?
Elaine Supkis (Berlin, NY)
The US didn't rebuild either country, they did it themselves.

We wrecked everything in a major war they started, after all. The problem with fighting Muslims here, there and everywhere is, there are a billion of these people, more than a billion.

It is just plain stupid.
NYCLAW (Flushing, New York)
I think Obama is playing with the hand that was dealt to him. As to your question why I did not tell Obama about nation building, my answer is I don't understand why you thought Obama would actually listen to me.

By the way, you should know that most politicians don't stick to their campaign promises with a few exceptions such as President James Polk.
Lauren Warwick (Pennsylvania)
Any "country" that can conceive of the Buzkhazi game..a rough sort of polo with a headless goat being passed between teams intent on riding each other down..and where allegiance is to one's tribe and the very concept of nation is alien will never be tamed by our western ideas of order....the US should have done what the Russian special forces did...claim they had victory and get the hell out.
Mike Edwards (Providence, RI)
A map of Afghanistan shows that the south and east of the country is bordered by Pakistan while Iran is the neighbor along the western frontier.

There is no mention of Pakistani support for the Taliban in this article but is not Pakistan a major backer? And do not significant numbers of Taliban fighters enter Afghanistan from Pakistan? If so, that’s another southern border that the US should consider sealing.

There is also no mention of Iran, which as a Shiite nation should be opposed to the Taliban but General Petreus noted in March 2011 that the Taliban are receiving weapons, money and training from Iran. If Western relations with Iran thaw to the extent that a Middle East policy can be discussed, maybe Iran could adopt position of making things difficult for the Taliban.

The Pakistanis and Iranians are there. They know the culture, the terrain and they speak the language. For the West to go it alone without support from Pakistan and Iran is merely spinning wheels.
alexander hamilton (new york)
Think how much ink could be saved if the Times just posted this headline: "Sectional and religious violence continues everywhere across the globe, as it has since the dawn of recorded history." OK, that's a long headline, but you get the idea. A daily "update" on this particular 5,000 year-old conflict is really not needed. Should the conflict ever end, THAT would be news worth printing.
c harris (Rock Hill SC)
This a pointless exercise. The Taliban is an umbrella liberation mov't. As much as President Obama learned about the collapse of Vietnam this a situation in which the US backed gov't is perceived as corrupt and want to the turn the country's resources to a foreign power. The ISIS mania will make the US stay longer and produce more death and hardship to Afghanistan.
Rudolf (New York)
The USA still doesn't understand reality. First of all being in countries like Afghanistan and expecting to win is a fool man's dream. It has never happened and never will. Second by still locking up so many Middle Easter's, including from Afghanistan, in Guantanamo Bay obviously weakens our gentlemen's negotiating strength with Cuba.
From both angles we keep shooting our self in the foot.
Mohammad (New York)
NY Times and every other credible source has repeatedly confirmed Tabliban are sustained by Pakistan. US is unable/unwilling to press Pakistan, fine.

Support and push the Afghan government to provide adequate logistical support to the armed forces. Outposts have been overran after running out of ammunition, its soldiers killed in dozens. Promised planes and heavy weapons cannot restore lives 4,100 killed soldiers and 7,800 wounded since last year but they can curb further bleeding.

If there ever was a just war of necessity, it is this one in Afghanistan.
NYCLAW (Flushing, New York)
The problem with Vietnam and Afghanistan is similar- corrupted regimes that profit the "elite" groups and trickle down the to masses- until the U.S. walks away because there is no prospect of success after billions wasted. We are reaching that point for Afghanistan rapidly. Most of the people in Afghanistan don't believe in democracy- they just play along as long as they are getting fed and we are protecting them. Now, the show is almost over.
Alexander (Charlotte, NC)
NYCLAW did you skip over the part of the article which mentioned that units which have lost a third of their strength are still fighting (albeit with understandably low morale)? How many losses did the Iraqi army take before they folded last year? For the first time we have an Afghan president we can work with-- a former Berkeley and Johns Hopkins professor and World Bank minister-- who is waging war not just on the Taliban but corruption. Afghanistan is trying to become a modern state whilst battling a ferocious and entrenched enemy; it's no wonder they are having difficulties. Also unlike Iraq, the state is actually fighting on its own behalf, and not relying outside groups like religious militias to do the heavy lifting. I say maintain our present (and very small) numbers for at least a few more years to let the Afghan state adjust to their new and much-reduced support.
NYCLAW (Flushing, New York)
Yes, I did. I was reading about their goal of "hang on till the end of the fighting season without major collapses." How much did we give them again? The number was so big that I lost track.
C. Morris (Idaho)
Sadly this whole endeavor was fated to fail from the get-go, but the final nail in the coffin of the Afg. War was the '03 invasion of Iraq.
Americans like a new war, but in two or three months they get bored or tire of hearing the news, and some of the pictures they see are a little disturbing!
Here's the 'lesson' from Vietnam; America doesn't learn lessons. Lessons are for the French, the British, others, not us.
TMA-1 (Boston)
Top US military commanders have consistently put corruption at the top of their list of reasons why the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot succeed. The difference between losing the war in Vietnam and loosing the war in Afghanistan is Vietnam had the ability to become/has become an industrial center with manufacturing, service, and tourism sectors integrated into the global economy. Despite being a communist/socialist state (the reason we fought was to prevent that and domino theory) they have a relatively vibrant economy and stable country, Even if Afghanistan established short-term government legitimacy and relative security, a land-locked, barren nation will never be able to enter the global economy and will never have peace and stability.

As far as Iraq goes it's very similar with the caveat that some will enjoy oil wealth while the remaining population will be trapped in poverty and subject to extremist rule.
Bhibsen (Albany, NY)
Actually, there are mineral resources in Afghanistan that could put it in a very good position in the global economy if there was a stable government. It is not as if Afghanistan has never been part of the global economy. Before the Russian invasion and subsequent takeover by the Taliban, they had a vibrant economy by Middle East standards at the time.
JimBob (California)
They were doing fine until we came along.
Laura (Florida)
We were doing just fine until 9/11.
Steve (Maine)
If by fine you mean a perpetual state of civil war since 1978 and being ruled mostly by a terrorist theocracy. In that case, yes, they were doing great.
Mr. Robin P Little (Conway, SC)

To all the far-left in the NY Times distribution area, such as craig geary in redlands, fl:

Republicans didn't cause Afghanistan to be "the Graveyard of Empires". Republicans didn't cause the Soviets to invade Afghanistan in the late 1970s. Republicans didn't cause Afghanistan to be a failed narco-state, run by regional warlords, and to be one of the poorest, most backward countries on Earth. Republicans didn't cause the different Muslim tribes there to decide that women were property, to be traded like goats between the men of the tribes.

Americans: this is what your trillion dollar, mostly military investment over a decade and a half has bought you, along with the U.S. military men and women who have fought, died and been maimed there: an Afghanistan which is mostly unchanged from the one before we arrived. I hope you think it was all worth it. This was the result of successive administrations, both Republican and Democrat, who have allowed our American military to become the most powerful, dominant force in national politics since WWII. We are an empire, run by our military and its industrial companies which build its hardware. Is this what you want America to be?
Bruce (San Diego)
Over a decade of war, thousands killed, tens of thousands wounded, Trillions spent, and for what? They are still 6th Century tribesmen. We have accomplished nothing.

Meanwhile, our people are homeless, our people are hungry, our people can't get good jobs, our people send their kids to poor schools. . . .

We have chosen to waste Trillions overseas on 6th Century tribesmen while our people suffer.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
Agreed. We should have used the 9/11 opportunity to reduce our nuclear arsenal by as many warheads it would have taken to turn AfPak into a parking lot
/sarcasm OFF
Pericles (Putnam, CT)
The US spent tens of millions of dollars training the Afghan army and police, but they are no match for the Taliban. Who trains the Taliban? While on the subject of training, who trains ISIS? They seem to be far better than the Iranian army we spent many millions to train. I suspect the reason is motivation. The Kurds and the tribal militias fight well, they know they are fighting for. But the troops we trained don't seem as motivated in fighting for us. Besides, what are we doing in the middle of these Islamic sectarian wars, its not our business, and whose side are we on anyway?
Southern Boy (Spring Hill, TN)
It will be just a matter of time until Afghanistan falls to the Taliban. Time is on the side of the Taliban. When Afghanistan falls the all the US fought for in that forsaken land will be lost. Oh, well....
Brock (Dallas)
We have spent 14 years protecting their poppy fields.
Jonathan Baker (NYC)
The success of ISIS proves that the purported reason for our troops in Afghanistan - to fight off terrorism throughout the region - is a marked failure on its own terms.

Why is the U.S. still involved in this sand pit? Because presidents and generals simply can't stand the spectacle of their public failure. So to sustain their vanity they spend more of our billions of tax dollars while more of our military personnel must die.

And I do not have any optimism that either the GOP nominee or Hillary (if she wins it) will demonstrate any more wisdom on this fiasco.
Willie (Louisiana)
The Afghans are choosing not to fight and die in a war that our politicians here in the United States want them to fight. We've seen this previously in Vietnam and Iraq. This indicates that the politicians we elect are incapable to learning. Why not help the Afghans establish the form of government THEY want rather than what we want? It's a simple idea, really. Even Hillary, Ted, Jeb and at least a few the rest of the current herd can understand this idea. I think. I hope.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
google the word "Decimation" and how well it can improve effectiveness. The taliban is a great proponent of this approach to discipline
Jim Bob (Morton IL)
Taliban forces critical aim is to inflict heavy casualties on the Afghan government in order to improve the Taliban bargaining position at the negotiating table. However, the reality is that military balance on the ground has not fundamentally changed. Unlike former President Hamid Karzai who was vehemently Anti-American, strategically tone deaf, and who permitted has own brothers Qayuum to plunder the Afghan Bank, Ghani’s does have the right strategy, albeit implementation is haphazard at best:

(1) Spending huge sum to reintegrate elements of the Taliban into the government;
(2) Unlike Karzai, Ghani has actively sought to reach out to Pakistan and consequently for the first time has directly engaged the Taliban in negotiation;

(3) The Ghani’s government has made modest strides by making fight against corruption as the centerpiece of government 'governance' strategy.

(4) Shared Taliban-Afghan Government interest in fighting ISIS. Recently the Taliban turned their guns on ISIS as they publicized its key victory against ISIS by reporting that the Taliban commander Mullah Khiarullah inflicted casualties on ISIS in Afghanistan;

(5) ISIS-Gulbudin Hekmatyar connection vs. Taliban: In contrast to the Taliban, Hekmatyar of the Islamic Party who was personally received by President Reagan at the White House three times, has publicly pledged support for ISIS.
Gregory (Bloomington, Indiana)
The justification to go to war in Afghanistan made sense; however, I still have no idea why we had to stay there in combat for over thirteen years. It also amazes me that the longest war in American history started to become the forgotten war once the Iraq conflict started. Even now, we talk about the Iraq War more than the Afghan War.
Zachary Hoffman (Columbus)
Sadly, we can't make the Afghani people believe in a secular society and we certainly can't make them want to fight for one. If they don't have the will to fight off the Taliban, there is nothing to be done. American forces can't stay there forever, especially when so many in the country don't want us to. The sad fact is that, for the most part, this war was never one that we could win. Only Afghanistan can.

We made the mistake of invading their country and, like the Soviets before us, we've paid a heavy price for it. It's hard to admit when you've lost a fight, but it's past time we do. The Afghani people don't want to fight for our idea of what their country should be, and that's fine. Perhaps leaving them to their own fate will be reason enough for them to start.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
substitute Khmer Rouge for Taliban and Cambodia for Afghanistan and you'll see how absurd that statement is. At least be honest about not caring about the outcome.
Zachary Hoffman (Columbus)
You mean how the United States bombing of Cambodia led to a faster growing and more radical Khmer Rouge? Yeah, that's true. It's not hard to see how our careless wars have led to an explosion of radical Islam. It's called ISIS.

As for caring about the outcome? It's already been determined, whether we leave now or 10 years from now.
mford (ATL)
They have as much chance of fighting off the Taliban as the Vietnamese had of fighting off the Vietcong. The Taliban will win, no matter how long the fight continues. Only after the fighting is done can future generations work for very gradual change, but it will never be as a secular society, not in this century, anyway.
Al Rodbell (Californai)
Other powerful nations attempted to provide order to fragmented nations of exotic religions -- India under the Raj comes to mind.

At least they overtly exploited the country, receiving benefits to compensate for the cost of their being the overseer of the contentious sub-continent. We jumped into Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq without the vaguest idea of the reality of their culture and the forces that provided at least a semblance of order.

We knew before we entered, from the words of Sec. of State Powell, "If we break it we own it." -- ignored by his and our leader, Bush/Cheney et al. Now they are retired from public life, as their successors must deal with the moral responsibility of this catastrophic hubris.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
We can still buy off the Northern Alliance. I doubt they care for another Pashtun Domination, and they cleaned the clocks of the soviets
Grandpa Scold (Horsham, PA)
This is discouraging news for a country upended by a ask no questions American policy that overacted to the historic tragedy of 9/11. Our blood was up and we were to raise havoc on the mujaheddin we empowered to raise havoc on the Soviets over twenty years before.

And now the quagmire continues for the people of Afghanistan. We should apologize, but we won't. We've got American exceptionalism to protect.
It seems we also have a stalemate: the urban progressives versus the rural traditionalists.

I'm hoping at this point for an agreement to a partition. Our country has done enough. Change comes from within and so I wish the Afghans well with their progress and offer them my apologies.
Michael F (Yonkers, NY)
Wait until you see this war on women. It is beyond my understanding how we can go into a country that subjugates half of the population, attempt to change that, succeed partialy and then abandon them to their fate.
Bob Swift (Moss Beach, CA)
The tragic consequences resulting from our invasion of Iraq continue to spread unabated.

Any possibility for the United States to make a positive contribution toward mitigating this evolving catastrophe would depend on first consolidating opinions at home. Only if our People, our Congress and our Administration could agree to agree on policy might we present a potential strategy for containing the mess we are continuing to abet.

However, with the present fragmentation of our interests and opinions at home matching those abroad I see little basis for hope.
C. Morris (Idaho)
But won't happen.
Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, some clever wag said.
Indeed our invasion of Iraq sealed the fate of Afg. Well said.
James (St. Paul, MN.)
For many decades, the Afghan people have rejected and defeated the succession of puppet "leaders" installed by foreign powers, and they have continued to reject the criminals placed there to support US interests. The only surprise is that there are still so many government officials in Washington that have never read or learned from history. It is long past time to declare victory, get our agents and forces out, and allow the Afghans to live as they have for centuries before our intrusion. The Afghan war and Iraq war cost trillions of US
taxpayer money, killed hundreds of thousands, and benefitted nobody except for the military contractor war profiteers. The US is arguably less safe and secure because of these criminal and completely unnecessary wars of opportunity.
Pericles (Putnam, CT)
The more we butt into Arab religious wars, the more they will seek revenge on us with "terrorists".
DSS (Ottawa)
It's just a matter of time before the Afghan army (security forces) give their weapons to the Taliban and blend back into the populous. Why are we training losers to fight for a puppet government that nobody except the few wealthy wants. We should be training Taliban to fight Taliban.
NJB (Seattle)
You underestimate the Afghans. These are not Iraqis. They will not fold like a cheap shirt the way the Iraq army did.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
Agreed as long as you're talking Hazaris and the Northern Alliance
Pericles (Putnam, CT)
Afghans will fight for their tribes, but not for what they see as our benefit,
The politicians responsible for wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq should be held accountable. Our country would look very different now if that money had been used to support domestic needs such as education, health care, and infrastructure.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
How many 9/11's could the US have absorbed? Would you rather have nuked AQ from a distance?
George Xanich (Bethel, Maine)
Regardless of billions spent on training the Afghan Army, the returns are miniscule and the more we invest and train, the deeper and longer is the involvement in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a nation state but a country that is made up of warring tribes. From Alexander the Great to present day many have tried to instill rule and outside order but all have failed. It is time to try the method of non-involvement to see what results may be harvested. Is Afghanistan under Taliban rule a truly direct threat to the US? The inhabitants are better judges to determine which rule is best and works for them!
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
The mongols had no problem slapping them into line. We simply lacked the stomach to repeat the "experience"
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
replace taliban with Khmer Rouge and Afghanistan with Cambodia.
Kimbo (NJ)
Our military advised the commander in chief that this would happen, but he was bent on bringing the troops home as fast as possible to look like the good guy.
I'm surprised this made the front page.
slartibartfast (New York)
He didn't look like a good guy by bringing the troops home - he was a good guy for bringing the troops home. Only fans of endless, futile war think staying in Afghanistan would have been a good thing.
shp (reisterstown,md)
seriously, who trains the Taliban, who arms them, where do they get their ammunition from?
At some point, we have to realize that the folks we train, support have no desire or will to fight. This is how we lost to the Viet Cong.
We should just walk away, lets spend the money here... after the taliban takes over again.. we can just bomb every training camp.. we are really good at that.
Joseph (Boston, MA)
The original mission was to destroy bin Laden and al Qaeda. I suppose it expanded to nation building -- something to which Bush was supposedly opposed -- when the original goal was botched.
D. H. (Philadelpihia, PA)
WHO'S LEFT STANDING? A desertion rate this year of 50% of nationals in the Afghan army is indicative of its imminent collapse. What sort of power vacuum will that create in the region? I read an account where Bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda operatives were pinned down in the mountains in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The undercover agents were signaling aircraft to move in for the kill, then the White House, presumably under Dubya's order (OK maybe they were Cheyney's orders--he was a "decider" too) was to call off the air strikes that would have taken Bin Laden out. Why was that? Maybe Michael Moore's movie about 9/11 is accurate--the allegations about the US Administration being too closely linked to the Saudis (hence, to Bin Laden and his family).
M240B (D.C.)
History has repeatedly shown that it does not matter how long the invader garrisons Afghanistan, the Afghanis are patient. Alexander? Conquered it easily, but when he reduced his troop strength, they were slaughtered like dogs. The Brits? The Soviets? Time has shown that only the Afghanis can conquer, and hold, Afghanistan.
craig geary (redlands, fl)
Eureka College guy cheerleader, WW II hero of the Battle of Beautiful Downtown Burbank, Reagan, had not armed the Afghan fundamentalists who changed their name to Taliban, gave bin Laden sanctuary and al Qaeda an entire country, we would not have this problem.
Andover prep guy cheerleader, Viet Nam War hero of the Battle of the Rio Grande, Boy George, channeling his inner Sun Tzu, had not invaded and occupied the Graveyard of Empires and first thing allowed family business associate Bin Laden to mosey, unmolested, out of Tora Bora, to lead AQ another decade, we would not have this problem.
Had Boy George not distracted himself by leading The Charge of The Fools Brigade into Iraq simultaneously, we would not have this problem.
We have wasted a trillion dollars and the lives of 2,500 GI's in Afghanistan.
For No Thing. Nada. Zippo.
Jeff (NYC)
Carter started arming the mujahedeen.

Don't let the facts interfere with your narrative.
craig geary (redlands, fl)
Carter spent a few million on AK-47's and ammo.
Reagan spent BILLIONs on heavy weapons, Swiss made AA guns and Stinger missiles.
It was Reagan who also enlisted Saudi support which came in the form of Wahabbi madrasas, factories working triple shifts turning out anti western, anti modern, death worshipping jihadi's and suicide bombers.
Victor (Santa Monica)
YES, but there is more. Candidate Obama appealed to people who wanted an end to America's war--not really a war but a violent occupation. He could not bring himself to just come out against a continuing American occupation of Iraq because that sounded too "soft," so to protect himself against that charge he said that we were fighting in the wrong country, that we should be fighting in Afghanistan. It was harmless for a candidate, but we know the rest. He got elected and had to ramp up the fighting in Afghanistan. It is an example of a reason why US policy so often doesn't work--decisions are made on the basis of domestic politics. With enough money you can make this work, or appear to work, for a time, but only for a time.
bnc (Lowell, Ma)
Haven't we learned from the history of the Crusades that we cannot defeat Islam; that no foreign power has ever successfully overtaken Afghanistan?

The Bush wars did stimulate our economy, but the cost has ben trillions in our national debt that keeps burgeoning as we borrow to pay the additional costs aus older citizens battle to keep our retirement benefits, what the Republicans claim are "entitlements" - handouts like welfare - promised to us that we paid for all our working careers.
G. Sears (Johnson City, Tenn.)
Afghanistan is in dire straits and going the way of Iraq.

There really is no way to reconcile the two assertions from this article that follow:

“And after a casualty rate last year that the previous American commander called unsustainable, the numbers this year are even worse: up more than 50 percent compared with the first six months of 2014.”

“The top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, who is to report to Mr. Obama in the fall with his recommendations on the future of the United States mission here, has praised the Afghan forces for their continued resilience, saying they have continued to be able to inflict heavy casualties on the Taliban.”

Americas post-911 military and civil interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan vis a vis interdiction and nation building have been uniformly ineffective. For all the hyped praise about the so called new counter insurgency doctrine, essentially outcomes have been abysmal.

Despite horrendous costs to America and the affected countries and indigenous populations, there is no political consensus about alternatives, or reining in America’s penchant for increasing military capability.

The factious divide that prevails in Washington holds dogged sway obstructing any forthright and meaningful dialogue -- while Americans mostly look the other way.
Vincent Amato (Jackson Heights, NY)
If we are allowed to judge by results rather than constantly shifting statements of goals, the only mission accomplished--from Afghanistan west to Libya--by the United States is a series of destabilized nations. The cost in lives on both sides, the gravely diminished prospects for the children and those yet born, the cost in dollars better spent on enhancing rather than destroying life all contribute to making the opening years of the 21st century truly dark and depressing.
ShowMeTheRealMoney (Not New York)
What makes you think the mess would have stayed put? How much more inaction after the 1993 WTC bombing would you have chosen? How more embassies would you have watched get blown up before you decided the dots are connected? At what body count would action become inevitable?
Josh Hill (New London, Conn.)
This assumes that Al Qaeda would have stopped attacking us had we not intervened. That seems improbable.

Bush made a mess of things by invading Iraq and taking resources out of Afghanistan, but Obama succeeded in decapitating Al Qaeda and it is no longer the threat to us that it once was.
Jon Davis (NM)
Changing Afghanistan was always a long shot.
But in 2003 when Bush abandoned our troops in Afghanistan with no mission, no leadership and no strategy, we lost, and Afghanistan's history was written for the next century.
However, we gained a great victory in Iraq!
D. H. (Philadelpihia, PA)
How do you define a "great victory"? Iraq is headed in the direction of being a failed state. Sorry, but Dubya standing in front of a banner on an aircraft carrier that says "mission accomplished" is not a criterion for success, much less a "great" success. You're correct about Afghanistan, though. Thanks to the prolonged war there, the Soviet Union fell apart.
Bob Swift (Moss Beach, CA)
I took that last line as sarcasm
Jim (NY)
Um I'm certain he was being sarcastic about the "great victory".
See also