When former President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom Oct. 7, 2001 in the smoldering wake of Sept. 11, the mission had stunning success toppling the Taliban Nov. 13, 2001. Operation Enduring Freedom was designed to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Only one small problem: Bin Laden fled with the Taliban’s one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar over the mountainous Khybar pass on motor-scooters Dec. 14, 2001, only to be found by “Operation Geronimo” May 1, 2011 by U.S. Navy Seals in Abbottabdad, Pakistan. While U.S. lawmen finally found Bin Laden, Omar and al-Qadea’s new No. 1, Egyptian-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahri, together with their minions, remain free. For the first eight years of Operation Enduring Freedom, 656 U.S. soldiers lost their lives. Since President Barack Obama surged troops in 2009, 1,500 more have died.
After Bin Laden and Omar’s disappearance from Afghanistan Dec. 2011, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney morphed the mission to rebuilding Democratic institutions for the war-torn mountainous rock-pile, once the scourge of Ancient Greece’s Alexander the Great. Once Bin Laden escaped, Bush shifted his attention to Iraq, hitting Baghdad with Cruise missiles March 20, 2003. Up till Obama’s inauguration, Afghanistan was a lost cause, with most U.S. assets going to Iraq. Obama shifted gears on the advice of Centcom Cmdr. David Petreus, who believed a troop-surge was in order like the one that turned the tide in Iraq. Since 2009, another 1,500 U.S. troops have lost their lives, a whopping 249% increase in the U.S. casualty rate. Just today, two more U.S. citizens, one military and one civilian, were killed, reminding the Pentagon that Afghanistan’s a dangerous place.
Since Hamid Karzai was installed Dec. 7, 2004 as the U.S.-backed leader, there have been widely reported accounts of infiltration by the Taliban and other terror groups into his security services. Yesterday’s fresh U.S. deaths are attributed to insurgent elements inside Karzai’s security forces. “We have to get on top of this. It is a very serious threat to the campaign,” said U.S. military’s top Army officer Gen. Martin Dempsey, echoing the same complaints since 2004. “I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you,” said U.S. and NATO top commander Gen. John Allen. “It reverberates everywhere across the United States. You know, we’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it,” Dempsey told CBS’s “60 Minutes.” If Allen were really so concerned about Taliban or terrorist infiltration into Karzai’s government, he should have urged Obama to get out.
Since surging 33,000 more troops Dec. 1, 2009, Obama has not recalibrated the Afghan mission. Bush promised as a candidate in 2000 he would not use the military for nation building. Yet once Bin Laden and Omar fled Afghanistan in 2001, the mission has been one of nation-building. With the Taliban embedded in Afghan population centers, especially in the Southern Kandahar region, it’s impossible for the U.S. to root out the ongoing guerrilla war. Once the Taliban and Bin Laden fled Kabul Nov. 13, 2001, Bush should have recalculated the mission, since Bin Laden, not the Taliban, was the threat to U.S. national security. When Bush pivoted to Iraq in 2003, he said he followed the terrorist battlefront. Bush and Cheney insisted Iraq was “the central front in the war on terror.” General Allen may be “mad as hell” but that doesn’t change the mission or stop Taliban infiltration.
White House and Pentagon officials must accept that Operation Enduring Freedom has lost its mission. Rebuilding Afghanistan does nothing to improve U.S. national security. Spending countless tax dollars actually weakens U.S. national security by creating shortfalls for the Pentagon at a time of foreign crises. Years of neglect in Afghanistan allowed the Taliban to develop a formidable guerilla fighting force. They learned from Bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan War [1979-1989] the strategy and patience needed to defeat an enemy with superior military strength. Calling recent U.S. deaths a “misunderstanding,” Afghan Defense Ministry continues the same smoke-blowing about how Karzai’s government supports U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan. Karzai has played both sides against the middle, often condemning U.S. and NATO military operations.
Scheduled to end in 2014, the U.S. needs to accelerate the timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat troops. While it’s OK to maintain bases in Afghanistan, they must be segregated from any joint operations with Karzai’s security services. Any proximity to Karzai’s security services leaves U.S. and NATO troops vulnerable to an infiltration attack. “After a short conversation took place between [Afghan army] and ISAF personnel, firing occurred which resulted in the fatal wounding of an ISAF soldier and death of a civilian colleague,” read the ISAF statement, blaming the incident on a “misunderstanding.” “There is a challenge for the administration,” said Brookings Institution fellow Michael O’Hanlon, “to remind people in the face of such bad news why this campaign requires more perseverance.” Once Nov. 6 passes, Obama must rethink whether or not to sacrifice more U.S. resolve on Afghanistan.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.