The top people in the Pentagon … want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.
It’s hard to imagine a U.S. president saying such things about the leadership at the Pentagon responsible for carrying out war operations.
Yet, according to White House transcripts, the words above werespoken by President Donald Trump, commander in chief of our 2.2 million-strong active duty and reserve military, in the run-up to today’s 19th anniversary of 9/11.
We understand this president seems to believe statements denouncing America’s post-9/11 “endless wars” helped him get elected.
We also understand that many Americans, regardless of political affiliation, believe that after nearly two decades and more than 2,400 U.S. deaths, it’s time for our military men and women to leave Afghanistan, regardless of the stability of the democratically elected government there or the Afghan security forces’ ability to defend against resurgent Taliban fighters.
But what we don’t understand is how Trump could say that our military leaders “want to do nothing but fight wars.” After all, as president he’s ultimately responsible and also must lead these men and women safeguarding our security.
What we hear, in this lashing out at the Pentagon, is a president trying to pit soldiers against the top brass or otherwise spin the issue for political gain. What we hear is a president trying to seal a “historic peace deal” that has forced the Afghan government to release nearly 5,000 Taliban prisoners, despite the militant group’s lasting ties with al-Qaeda, yet has thus far failed to get the two sides to negotiate directly or to honor even temporary cease-fires.
What we don’t hear is the president laying out a clear strategy for guarding us against a future attack. Nor do we hear a president speaking plainly about the Taliban, speaking clearly about the future safety of Afghan security forces, or speaking up for the millions of Afghan women and children with newfound rights, thanks to U.S. and NATO coalition forces.
What we don’t hear the president saying is that since the Taliban signed a peace deal with the U.S. in late February, Afghan security forces have suffered their heaviest casualties since the war began. Or that, in the months leading up to the still pending “intra-Afghan” peace talks, deadly attacks on the Afghan civilian population have increased while attacks on U.S. forces have decreased.
Just this week, a roadside bomb targeting Senior Vice President Amrullah Saleh killed at least 10 people, nearly all civilians, in Kabul. As with other recent bombings the Taliban hasn’t claimed responsibility, but Afghan officials on the ground say there’s no doubt who is behind the attacks.
The mounting Afghan deaths and casualties have contributed to a siegelike mentality in Kabul, with many fearing Taliban reprisals if and when the U.S. withdraws. The Trump administration’s March 23 announcement that it was “immediately” slashing aid to Afghanistan by $1 billion, and possibly by the same amount in 2021, has contributed to the fear of reprisals, with growing numbers of security forces and police resigning.
We saw this coming when the Trump administration announced that it had struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. troops in 14 months if its fighters stopped attacking U.S. forces and severed all ties with al-Qaeda, which a congressional report in late June said had yet to happen. Indeed, that report said, “It is unclear what verification mechanisms, if any, are in place to ensure Taliban compliance and to what extent the U.S. withdrawal (ongoing since March 2020) might be paused or reversed based on Taliban action with regard to al-Qaeda.”
As we wrote in March, our main concern with Trump’s “historic” deal is that it “offers legitimacy to an organization best known for using a soccer stadium to carry out public torture and executions, for oppressing women and girls, for targeting the LGBTQ community, and for otherwise imposing an extreme and totalitarian ideology on the people of Afghanistan.” And of course, the Taliban “also harbored the leaders of al-Qaeda while they planned and carried out terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people on American soil on Sept. 11, 2001.”
Today, as the Trump administration rushes to close the deal without proper verification, our concerns are even greater. The deal calls for the Afghan government and the Taliban to meet in Doha where they will negotiate a permanent cease-fire and political settlement in return for a “conditions-based” drawdown of U.S. troops, which have already come down to some 8,500 from 13,000 in March. The administration says it believes the conditions will be in place for total withdrawal by mid-2021 — less than a year from now.
We’re all for peace in Afghanistan and an end to a war that back in December 2014, when the combat mission known as Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended, was already the longest war in U.S. history. But at what price? Since January 2015, the U.S. and NATO have been engaged mainly in training Afghan security forces, providing air support, and other crucial assistance.
While every death is a tragedy, according to the Defense Department, only 95 Americans — military or civilian — have lost their lives in Afghanistan in the five years and eight months since the noncombat Operation Freedom’s Sentinel began. During that same time, 572 were reported wounded in action.
If the Trump administration’s “peace process” does indeed lead to a total U.S. withdrawal of troops, does anyone seriously believe the Taliban will live up to their side of the bargain and turn against al-Qaeda and its affiliates? And what will happen if, once U.S. troops are withdrawn, the Taliban seek to retaliate against those who cooperated with the U.S. or eradicate the important progress made on the human-rights front let alone on democracy?
On this date, it’s worth remembering how many lives our country lost 19 years ago on a clear September morning — and how much we’ve sacrificed, particularly our military families, since then. If, after 19 years, we now turn away from the noble goals of Operation Enduring Freedom — including preventing Afghanistan from harboring terrorists and the removal of the Taliban regime — what sort of peace will our nation and our brave Afghan allies be forced to endure?