18 years since 9/11, what is Trump’s next move in Afghanistan?

Advisors from the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade conducting advising during their 2019 deployment to Afghanistan.

(Editorial by Houston Chronicle)

America doesn’t make as big a deal of 9/11 anniversaries as it did when the deaths of the attacks’ nearly 3,000 victims were fresher in our minds. In many ways the nation has moved on, but not in Afghanistan. The war that began there 18 years ago continues with no discernible end in sight.

Instead, President Trump, who criticized President Barack Obama for not getting out of Afghanistan, has discovered that’s not as easy as candidate Trump thought. In fact, there are more U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, about 14,000, than the 8,500 when Trump was sworn into office.

The administration has been hinting for weeks that it wants to pull out more troops, but that was before Trump abruptly announced Saturday that he was discontinuing secret peace talks with the Taliban, the militant group that governed Afghanistan before the war began.

“As far as I’m concerned, they are dead,” Trump said Monday, referring to the peace talks.

But what happens next became more muddled Tuesday when the president announced he had fired national security adviser John Bolton, who ironically had steadfastly opposed the talks.

“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. He said Bolton’s replacement would be named next week.

We hope that brings clarity to the president’s plans. Even some of his most vocal critics agreed with Trump when he said he wanted to end the war. But figuring out the right path toward that goal remains as elusive as it became for Obama.

The Taliban is believed to control about 15 percent of Afghanistan, but given the country’s weak government and army, it would likely take over much more once U.S. troops leave. That possibility raised questions about Trump’s negotiating with the Taliban without representatives of Afghanistan’s government.

A return to Taliban rule would be a return to medieval times for that country. The hard-line Islamists came to power in 1996, about seven years after the Soviet Union ended a 10-year military intervention that began with the USSR taking the wrong side in a civil war.

The Taliban instituted shariah law and forbade women from being educated or holding a job. They remained in power until the country was invaded in 2001 by America in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. America succeeded in toppling the Taliban government, which had provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, but neither that nor bin Laden’s death by American forces 10 years later in Pakistan, has made it any

easier to leave Afghanistan.

It’s another case of the adage about buying what you break in a china shop. Afghanistan is broken and many Americans feel at least partly responsible for the war’s contribution to that condition. The question is how much more are we willing to pay.

That’s in the hands of the president and his soon-to-be updated national security team.

Eighteen years after 9/11, this country is much more secure. The threat of domestic terrorism has become more daunting than another attack by foreign agents. Yet the war in Afghanistan continues, and American soldiers continue to die, including Sgt. First Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul last week.

Trump said he called off the peace talks because the Thursday’s attack, which killed 11 others near the U.S. Embassy. More deaths are likely before the war ends. Eventually, if we don’t find a way to negotiate an end to the war, this country, like the Soviet Union, will simply decide it’s been in Afghanistan too long and that the price being paid is too high.


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