Why the “Forever War” in Afghanistan May Never End (AKA How a War Turns into an Occupation)

The nation of Afghanistan has not been on my (and presumably on any of yours) mind in recent years (even though it should have in hind sight, a mistake I willingly own up to). This is because after over 18 years, US forces are still there fighting against the Taliban. The aftermath of the September 11th attacks saw a hastily done, poorly organized invasion of Afghanistan leading to the overthrow of the Taliban who gave shelter to the terror mastermind, Osama bin Laden. After ten years, US forces finally killed him (although ethically and strategically, they shouldn’t have because of the information he had that could have been of use to the world….there’s a part of me that thinks his death was designed to keep things quiet) leading to the supposed end of the mission there. Instead, eight years removed from these events, the US still maintains a growing presence there in a stalemate against insurgent Talbian forces looking to reclaim power.

This stand off resulted in the controversial negotiations that took place between the Trump administration and the Talbian over the last year. While it’s doubtful that a truly successful peace deal was being negotiated, Trump made a big mistake in ending peace talks with the Taliban. It’s one thing to reject the terms that were presented because there was no enforcement method to ensure a cease fire of violence and preserve hard fought gains for women’s rights and democracy. It’s an entirely different thing to call off the talks all together because it might not play well with your political base of war hawks and neo cons. This decision to back down and the chaos that will follow the inevitably contested results from the presidential election that took place last month will make it less likely for peace talks to begin again before Trump is removed from office. Once his predecessor takes over, no future talks will take place and the consequences will be severe for all of the parties involved.

While the US takes a large share of responsibility for overstaying their welcome and spurning genuine peace talks, the Taliban leaders need to take responsibility for their failures as well. They may be the dumbest terrorists in history. They negotiated with the US (spurning the elected Afghanistan government…a mistake if there is to be genuine peace in the nation) assuming that war fatigue will lead to a unilateral military retreat from the conflict. They forget (or don’t realize) who really runs the US (weapons manufacturers and drug companies). Many of these groups are already advocating for a permanent US presence and are already looking for ways to turn the deficits that military presence there is costing the US into a surplus. If the next president is beholden to these interests, they will begin to make a profit off of the Afghanistan economy by forcing the new government to pass a tax that directly funds the US through Afghani salaries and profits. Such taxation without representation is a human rights violation as enshrined in the US bill of rights, but that has never stopped the US before with its various colonies (Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, eg.) and it certainly won’t now.

In such a situation, we won’t be able to extract ourselves from the conflict turned permanent occupation so easily. Just as the abolition of slavery was bloody and long fought, so too will the end of occupation if we don’t get a move out soon. There will be no exit that is entirely favorable to US interests. Some compromises will need to be made by Trump in the next month or two if he wishes to secure an exit before his time runs out. The only question that lingers is how long do we wish to occupy the country as a means of weakening (but never defeating) the Taliban? At this juncture, save for a breakthrough in the next month (which is extremely doubtful) the best guess for when a real exit from the nation will occur is around the time when the US sees its next best chance of being overthrown by the people, the mid 2030’s. That would mean a war that should have ended eight years ago will go on for over thirty five years as an occupation instead. One has to look to the non-state Palestinian Authority to see how a “temporary” occupation becomes a permanent one.

Of course, nothing in life is permanent. Human survival isn’t either. It’s just that, because of the mistakes made by the last three presidents, millions of Afghanis and American troops will continue to pay the cost of our foolish notion of “nation building” a country that cannot be built. Trump isn’t the only guilty one by any means, but his failures last month will cost the nation for decades to come, perhaps even more so than some of his other more infamous decisions.