During the Obama administration, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to creative suggestions and unconventional approaches with a refusal to even have a conversation. They even claimed it would be illegal to discuss them, which is total nonsense.
As Americans die year after year, the Pentagon has managed the war in Afghanistan bureaucratically, and it has not succeeded. Obama’s Pentagon seemed to think failure was an option. It wasn’t, and now we are finally having the conversation about new approaches. I urge the Trump Pentagon to take these new ideas seriously.
Erik Prince, of Blackwater fame, has an alternative strategy that will work. Prince first got involved in Afghanistan through his former company, but his experience goes way back. In 1998, through his financial support for the Inter-Afghan Dialogue Process, he tried to bring peace to the war-torn country.
Prince also played a largely unknown but critical role immediately after 9/11, when he put the CIA in direct contact with Americans who were highly trusted by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. General’s Abdul Rashid Dostum’s famous horseback charge, which broke the back of the Taliban, may never have happened if not for Prince’s knowledge and activism in helping his country.
Blackwater’s accomplishments in Afghanistan are legendary. Prince has credibility and a proven track record on Afghanistan and in other trouble spots.
President Trump inherited a total mess in Afghanistan. After 16 years, 2,300 lives lost, 22,000 maimed, and nearly a trillion dollars spent, America finds itself stuck in the longest war in our history with no end in sight for thousands of U.S. troops still engaged there. If changes aren’t made soon, radical Islamic terrorism will be more threatening than after or before 9/11.
Of course, one option is to pull out quickly and completely, which would soon lead to a complete jihadi victory within a year or two. As the black Taliban flag is raised over the U.S. embassy, the ultimate recruiting call for every terrorist wannabe in the world would have been sounded.
Another approach is to do what most conventional generals want: Send tens of thousands more U.S. troops back to do more fighting with the requisite costs of American blood and treasure rising together, only to maintain the status quo.
Wisely, the president so far has rejected this all-or-nothing choice, because neither approach is in the interest of our country.
As the Pentagon has been cycling generals in and out of Afghanistan, it now has become evident that no one is really in charge and no one is really held responsible. We are losing the war, but the generals all get promoted, not fired. A return to the old system of having one person in charge of policy, rules of engagement, spending by all agencies and departments, including military operations and budgets, makes the most sense.
A common sense approach is to embed highly qualified trainers with Afghan military units for sustained periods. Few Americans realize that when our troops go to Afghanistan to train indigenous soldiers, they typically spend only about eight hours a week doing so. They never go into harm’s way with them, instead staying safely holed up on U.S. bases most of the time.
This is incredibly expensive and inefficient. And the current approach does not ensure that Afghan troops get paid on time, are equipped properly, and are effectively supported on the battlefield with logistics, intelligence, ammunition, and air support. The new approach would accomplish this.
This isn’t about privatizing this conflict so that someone like Prince can make money. His suggested plan would save taxpayers some $40 billion each year. Besides that, concerns about private-sector actors making money on conflict seem to overlook those companies already benefiting from the status quo.
This approach also enables the leadership for much needed changes: the recalibration of the Afghan political system to a more decentralized structure; destroying the poppy crop; recognizing the border with Pakistan; instituting proper governance, including national carbon and mining laws; enacting proper patent rights and intellectual property protections; even establishing a system of clear title to property.
The jihadists got out of the bottle in the wake of the U.S.-supported Mujahedeen victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Another Islamist victory in Afghanistan now – this time over the United States – would guarantee that our children will be dealing with radical Islam the rest of their lives. Rather, we need to start to get the jihadists back in the bottle by breaking their will in Afghanistan.
As Prince put it, “This is a Wollman Ice Rink moment for the Trump Presidency. We owe the American people a method to deny terror sanctuaries while also not spending outrageous of blood and treasure for years to come. The moderate approach provides a dignified offramp to the longest war in our history.”
He may be right.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher represents California’s 48th congressional district and chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.