Michael McGrady's Aug. 14 screed "Afghan War Costly Failure" is just the latest from a growing chorus of cynics about American involvement in Afghanistan.
In this case, Michael McGrady went so far as to conclude: "The Afghanistan War remains a costly failure that several presidents, and world leaders, have to account." McGrady makes the now-common mistake of forgetting why we had to invade Afghanistan and drive the Taliban from power and keep the Taliban from power.
Despite the need to fix stabilization and reconstruction issues (and having served in Afghanistan, I am fully behind efforts to clean up waste, fraud and abuse issues), it is time for the true perspective of why we invaded Afghanistan and what has been accomplished for the United States.
First, a bit about the theme of the article. Essentially, McGrady's entire article is a regurgitation of the report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). McGrady repeats the charges on the relatively narrow issues involving stabilization and reconstruction to claim U.S. defeat or overall "failure" in Afghanistan.
The special inspector was given the mandate to find waste, fraud and abuse during the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to determine whether America achieved its purposes in defeating the Taliban.
In the report, a number of issues were noted about mismanagement of money flowing into Afghanistan to rebuild and stabilize that war-torn nation. Of particular concern was the problem of Afghan contractors being allowed to milk the system while providing substandard or unneeded results and corruption within the Afghan government.
The formation and direction of SIGAR to expose these issues, rather than attempt to hide, is to be commended. Hopefully, the lessons learned will better assist with the future of stabilization and reconstruction.
The point McGrady and so many other cynical revisionists fall to consider is the primary reason the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in the first place. It was not to create a first-world democracy with pristine infrastructure.
Let's go back two decades. Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the Taliban had allowed Al Qaeda (and specifically Bin Laden) to establish camps to plan, train and execute attacks like those we saw on 9-11. The Taliban established a brutal Sharia Law Theocracy in Afghanistan, which Al Qaeda and other such Jihadist groups saw as the base of a future worldwide Sharia Law Caliphate -- one that would bring never-ending war to non-Muslim nations.
The 9-11 attacks were planned and executed by those trained and financed at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Importantly, the Taliban refused to close down the camps or hand over Bin Laden after the 9-11 attacks despite the U.S. ultimatum to do so or face invasion.
The U.S. had no realistic choice in invading Afghanistan, and was supported by almost all world nations due to Taliban intransigence. Men like McGrady might believe the conspiracy theories of George Bush conducting 9-11, but Bin Laden himself admitted in film to being responsible. That case is closed.
Being an infantry officer in the Army at the time of 9-11, and considering options for the planning for the invasion for Afghanistan, I vividly recall all the doomsayers' predictions of American defeat. The three failed British invasions in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the eight-year failed Soviet invasion gave pause about the challenges in Afghanistan.
Despite the challenges of having to plan and mount the operation to seize a landlocked and mountainous Afghanistan in a month, it worked. Within a relatively short period, the Taliban were driven from power and out of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was dismantled in Afghanistan and forced into hiding in Pakistan where Bin Laden was later killed. Unlike the British or even Soviet invasions of Afghanistan, the U.S. was not forced out in disgrace, but kept the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups from power since 2001.
Though we have had to keep a presence in Afghanistan without complete stabilization or reconstruction, this is not a historic anomaly. The United States has had to continue long-term occupations throughout much of our history, and this includes occupations involving long-term insurgencies.
The U.S. seized the Philippines from Spain in 1898, but fought a high-intensity counter-insurgency until early into the 20th century. Insurgencies within the Philippines continued for decades during the American occupation. From 1915 until around 1935, U.S. Marines fought long-lasting insurgencies in Haiti and Nicaragua attempting to bring stability to areas of strategic value to the U.S. due to the Panama Canal. The United States Army spent decades fighting to stabilize the American West.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban were forced to leave Afghanistan and, beyond causing deaths of primarily Afghan civilians, have not reasserted control of Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom sent the message to a number of adversaries and potential adversaries about the resolve and capabilities of the United States. A clear result of the Taliban being driven from power in Afghanistan after 9-11, has been the safety of the U.S. from further 9-11 attacks. Other nations had to take note of the consequences of allowing another 9-11 from their soil.
I proudly volunteered to serve in Afghanistan and will never regret that decision. I, and those I served with, understand that invading Afghanistan and preventing the Taliban from reasserting control were necessary. It was directly tied to protecting the United States in the aftermath of 9-11.
The sacrifices of those who gave the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan were not in vain of a losing cause. They died to protect the nation from another 9-11, not necessarily to rebuild Afghanistan into Denmark. In the purpose of the invasion, they succeeded. McGrady is right that it has been costly. Costly, but absolutely not a failure.