The Afghanistan War Ends … On Paper

The American and allied combat mission in Afghanistan officially ended yesterday, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting out of there:

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010, will fall to 10,800 in January, aimed at helping the Afghan government hold on to power, even as Taliban units occupy territory increasingly close to the capital. Nearly 1 million U.S. troops pulled at least one tour in Afghanistan. Yet during 2002 and 2003, the average number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan never topped 10,400. That means the U.S. forces left in country following the war will top the number fighting there during its first two years.

A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years, including 2,356 Americans. The war cost U.S. taxpayers, past, present and future, about $1 trillion.

Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani had agreed at the end of September to allow the 10,000-strong contingent of US troops to remain in the country past the end of 2014. Last month, President Obama quietly authorized that contingent to play a more expansive role than originally planned:

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

Meanwhile, 2014 is likely to be Afghanistan’s worst year since 2009 in terms of civilian casualties. So forget all that about the war being “over”. Still, the Taliban took the opportunity to boast that it had defeated the US-led coalition:

“ISAF rolled up its flag in an atmosphere of failure and disappointment without having achieved anything substantial or tangible,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an statement emailed on Monday. … Vowing to restore their former hard-line Islamist regime, Taliban spokesman Mujahid vowed that “the demoralized American-built forces will constantly be dealt defeats just like their masters”. The Taliban have launched increasingly deadly attacks this year. Nearly 3,200 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict between the militant group and the army in 2014, and more than 4,600 Afghan army and police died in Taliban attacks.

Dorian de Wind finds the charade pretty rich:

If it is any consolation, the President and others appear to recognize the risks of our continued involvement in Afghanistan: “Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country…Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,” Obama said.

But then, we should not call the beginning of an “operation” that leaves 11,000 U.S. troops in harm’s way “the end of the war.” It is almost as fallacious and cruel as the infamous “mission accomplished” was.