Amid all the news coming out of Afghanistan — the Taliban’s hold on power, the death of the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) there, and constant attacks around the country — a troubling bit of info has been lost: U.S. airstrikes are the highest they’ve been in a decade.
The Military Times on Wednesday reported that U.S. airstrikes are pounding Taliban targets across the country in an effort to “convince the insurgent force that negotiating with the Afghan government is their only option.” Or, as the U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) puts it, using “military pressure to drive the Taliban to reconcile.”
According to AFCENT’s own data:
“The U.S. flew 749 strike sorties, 88 of which included a weapons release. Both are monthly highs this year. Also, the U.S. employed 746 weapons in July, the highest monthly total since November 2010.”
So nearly 17 years after invading Afghanistan, the United States has failed to drive the Taliban out, and the best-case-scenario — in service of which it is now bombing the country from end-to-end — is to now bring the Taliban into government negotiations.
The Pentagon isn’t about to admit that its strategy on Afghanistan has been a failure. If anything, it has phrased its plan as one focusing on diplomacy, rather than what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford called “an enduring large military commitment” earlier this week.
The person who is very anxious to call what’s going on a failure, however, is Erik Prince, the founder of the name-shifting private military contracting company Blackwater and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince started floating the idea of having his men replace troops in Afghanistan — an idea that was supported by President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Military experts opposed the idea, but Prince has re-purposed last year’s PowerPoint presentation to Trump advisers and brought it back as a cable news media tour to convince the president that privatization of the war is the way forward.
It’s unclear whether Trump supports the idea, but one person who has openly expressed interest in it is his National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said that he is “open to new ideas” in fighting the war in Afghanistan.
As the Trump administration tries to figure out the way forward — and out of — Afghanistan, the situation worsens for Afghans stuck in the middle, facing evermore insecurity.
Speaking at a regional conference on Wednesday, Director-General of Policy and Strategy of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ashraf Haidari told the audience that his country is a “victim of external aggression in the form of terrorism,” triggering a massive, complicated humanitarian crisis.
“This makes our country a major source of refugees and asylum seekers, who are often ferried by human smugglers to Europe, Australia and elsewhere,” said Haidari.
July 31 U.N. figures indicate that nearly 170,000 Afghans have been newly displaced so far this year. Civilian casualty data shows that while civilian injuries have decreased so far this year, fatalities have increased.
Civilian casualties — injuries and deaths — have more than doubled since the same period in 2009.