The Last Man

Sergeant First Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz could have been the last American serviceman to die in Afghanistan.  Could have been. After the Taliban took credit for the attack that killed Sgt. Ortiz, President Donald Trump called off his meeting with the Taliban last weekend.  This week, he announced that peace talks are “dead.”

The peace deal was done.  With only a signing ceremony remaining, the US military was prepared to draw down.  The Taliban continued to press their war against the Kabul government, and a car bomb detonated in Kabul on September 5, killing 12, including Sgt. Ortiz.  President Trump appears to perceive this attack as a strongarm tactic intended to give the Taliban more leverage in the negotiations – negotiations which were reportedly complete.  

Of course, the US military had, likewise, continued military operations during the negotiations.  In fact, the US military’s bombing campaign and drone war have escalated this year, and UN statistics state that more Afghan civilians have been killed by the US and Afghan National Army than have been killed by Taliban attacks.

So, the war will continue. But to what end?

I have news for you, Mr. President:  The Taliban has the upper hand. They are on their homefield, literally.  Nearly 18 years of war has left the Taliban controlling more territory than they have since the war began, although the US military stopped issuing those reports when the losing trend became clear.  In many ways, the Taliban is the political organization representing the plurality Pashtun people of Afghanistan, and the US has supported those people in the past.

The Afghan War is an exercise in futility.  The US had no valid reason to invade Afghanistan, because the Taliban had offered to turn over Osama bin Laden to any other government.  Even so, bin Laden is dead, now. What reason have we to stay? The military experts and hawks cannot even define what a victory would be, let alone conceive of a situation which would allow the US military to completely withdraw from the country.  Even a peace deal would have left US troops in Afghanistan.

Many people who support the US intervention in Afghanistan and maintain that ‘those savages must accept Western-style democracy’ are the same people who are terrified of Muslims settling in the US and instituting Sharia law.  Therefore, we must restrict immigration or bar Muslims from entry, they argue, because we must prevent them from fundamentally changing the character of our nation.

Now, apply that logic in the other direction.  The US government is attempting to fundamentally alter the character of Afghanistan; and not through winning at the ballot box, rather at the point of the sword.  From the Taliban’s perspective, they are defending against an invasion.

It will not be easy to revive peace negotiations, as both sides will likely step up their military activities.  If the death of a single soldier is enough to trigger President Trump to withdraw from negotiations, what of the loss of dozens?

Whether the reasons to remain engaged in Afghanistan are grounded in reckless interventionism, imperial aspirations or path-to-hell type do-gooderness is irrelevant.  Nothing will be gained by prolonging this war. Months or years down the road when the US is forced to revisit a peace agreement with the Taliban, nothing will have changed.  President Trump or a future President will not find themselves in a better negotiating position, and it is likely they will find themselves in a worse position. All that will have changed is that more Taliban fighters, more US servicemen and more Afghani civilians will have died.

As I sit at my computer writing this on September 11, I wonder at how it is that we became embroiled in a war in Afghanistan in response to that tragic event.  I wonder why, 18 years later, we are still fighting in a country which had no direct involvement in those attacks. And, I fear Sergeant Ortiz will greet more of his brothers and sisters sooner, rather than later.

Michael Reeves hosts The Liberty Mic podcast with his friend Liberty Larry; and his occasional scribbles, along with their podcasts, can be found at thelibertymic.com.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan