Afghanistan: “We Are Staying in That Fight”

 
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Afghanistan: “We Are Staying in That Fight”

Haven’t talked about Afghanistan much lately since ISIS has really dominated in terms of kinetic military action, but two news items today bring it into focus.

First, the bad news, from Military Times:  

One U.S. service member was killed and four others were wounded during a combat engagement on Monday in Afghanistan, according to a Tuesday release from U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reported that Sen. Cory Booker said the Army identified the casualty as Mihail Golin, of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

The incident happened in Achin, Nangarhar province, the release said. Two of the wounded service members were treated at a nearby medical treatment facility and are in stable condition, officials said. The other two have been returned to duty.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our own,” said USFOR-A commander Gen. John Nicholson. “At this very difficult time our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen and wounded brothers.”

Haven’t seen much about what Mihail Golin did in the Army, but the area is largely being held by special operators, so it wouldn’t shock me if we find out that he was a Green Beret or a Ranger.

Either way, Vice President Pence made some fairly clear statements about our long term intent in the region and the fight against the dozens of terrorist groups there:

Vice President Mike Pence summed up the year 2017 in Afghanistan, and the 16 years that went before it, on a visit to Kabul just before Christmas when he state to President Ashraf Ghani: "We've been on a long road together." […]

Speaking to troops at the Bagram air base north of Kabul on Dec. 21, Pence delivered much the same message as previous administrations:

"We came here to Afghanistan to liberate its people and prevent the terrorists from ever threatening our homeland again. And we are staying in that fight and we will see it through to the end," the vice president said.

"Under President Donald Trump, the Armed Forces of the United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan until we eliminate the terrorist threat to our homeland, our people, once and for all," Pence said.

"We believe that we are now on a path to achieve a lasting victory for freedom and security in Afghanistan," he said earlier in his meeting with Ghani and Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.

The difference this time will be the Trump strategy developed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that will be based on conditions on the ground and "not arbitrary timetables," Pence said.

People who aren’t experts on the area or haven’t been there can be forgiven for wondering just why it has taken 17 years to get here, and wondering exactly where “here” is.  It’s by far the longest war we’ve ever been engaged in, and judging from these comments, I don’t think it’s going to end any time soon.

There are plenty of factors which feed into this lengthy process.  Afghanistan isn’t just rural in terms of movement capabilities, it’s worse than you can imagine if you haven’t been there.  When I was there in 2004-2005 we would go into villages and some people thought we were Russians, despite the Russians having left almost 20 years previous to that.  The roads are horrid, and people don’t travel much beyond their village.  It’s not like the US where you might visit a bunch of states.  In Afghanistan, visiting another province can be seriously dangerous, there’s a decent possibility that the people there are of a different tribe or nationality, and there’s even language barriers.  On top of that, no one really has the disposable income to do it.

So instead of having what we have with a centralized government that can reach people through TV and such, they really don’t have that much there.  Things get passed around by word of mouth from village to village.  And if you face some grave injustice here in the states, you hire an attorney or go to the media.  You can’t do that in Afghanistan.  It’s essentially hundreds of little fiefs, each run by a warlord.  So, instead of just installing a new government and viola! everything runs smooth again, in Afghanistan you have to build up each individual community, and hope the bad guys don’t swoop in and take it over.

Hopefully if they can ever get the security situation squared away Afghanistan is sitting on a wealth of rare minerals:

President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies…

In 2010, American officials estimated that Afghanistan had untapped mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion, an estimate that was widely disputed at the time and has certainly fallen since, given the eroding price of commodities. But the $1 trillion figure is circulating again inside the White House, according to officials, who said it had caught the attention of Mr. Trump…

“There are undoubtedly minerals to be exploited in Afghanistan, which could help provide economic stability to the country in the future,” said Daniel F. Feldman, a former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “But given all the obstacles, it could be many years before mining yields dividends for the Afghan people.”

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.