By Thomas WATKINS
Washington (AFP) May 14, 2017
Hanging in a corridor outside the Pentagon press office, a blow-up of a Time magazine cover shows a weary US soldier drawing deeply on his cigarette. Barbed wire and snowy foothills loom behind him.
The headline: "How Not to Lose in Afghanistan." The date: April 20, 2009.
More than eight years later, the Pentagon finds itself in the same quandary.
This time round, it is President Donald Trump looking for answers, just as Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him.
Having given Afghanistan little more than a passing mention as president, he is now being forced to confront the issue by a grim drumbeat of bad news and warnings from his generals.
Almost any year from its turbulent recent past can serve as a showcase for Afghanistan's dire predicament.
Take 2016, which marked 15 years since the US-led invasion. Nearly 11,500 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the United Nations.
Adding to the carnage, local officials say, the Taliban and other insurgent groups killed about 7,000 Afghan security force members -- many of whom had been trained and supported by US and NATO experts.
Dan Coats, Trump's director of national intelligence, hammered home the depressing point this week, warning that the political and security situation will "almost certainly" continue to worsen.
"Meanwhile, we assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas," he said.
Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform and a pledge to reduce US overseas involvement, must now decide whether to approve expected requests from the military's top brass to send thousands more US troops back to Afghanistan.
Administration advisers are reportedly urging him to green light some 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, adding to the 8,400 already there.
The president is expected to make the decision this month, and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said his own recommendation would come "very shortly."
- 'Change something' -
US troop levels peaked at around 100,000 under Obama, who later embarked on a steady drawdown aiming to completely end America's combat role in the country.
The United States and NATO handed security responsibility over to Afghan forces at the start of 2015, but the outcome has been brutal.
Local troops have been slain in their thousands, corruption remains endemic and as the Taliban continues to gain ground, even US commanders concede the situation is a stalemate at best.
"Unless we change something... the situation will continue to deteriorate and we'll lose all the gains that we've invested in over the last several years," Defense Intelligence Agency chief General Vincent Stewart told lawmakers this week.
However, a new troop commitment would stir resentment in America, which has seen about 2,400 troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and another 20,000 wounded.
Plus the US government has already spent around $1 trillion on fighting and rebuilding, much of which has been squandered on wasteful projects.
Trump is expected to announce a decision while he travels to NATO in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily later this month.
He will need to outline a coherent Afghanistan policy and explain how a few thousand extra troops will win -- or at least not lose -- there, when 100,000 troops could not.
"What we will have at the end of this next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region broadly," said Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.
Administration officials acknowledge military gains can succeed only if reforms take place in the heart of the Kabul government.
Mattis this week sounded an optimistic tone on the country's current leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Officials say the government is working to root out the corruption and bad governance that defined Hamid Karzai's decade in power.
They are "committed to working in a responsive way with their citizens, and therein lies the path forward," Mattis said.
"When a government wins the affection, the respect and the support of their people, then no enemy can stand against them."
NATO currently has about 13,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, including the Americans.
They do not typically fight the Taliban, serving a "train and advise" role for the local forces instead.
Extra troops could free up Western advisers to get closer to the fight. While that would help them gain better battlefield understanding, it would also put them at greater risk.
But Americans have little appetite for more deaths in a war that many view as unwinnable and would rather forget.
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan (AFP) May 11, 2017
Two people were killed in cross-border firing in Kashmir Thursday, one on each side of the disputed region's de facto border, officials in India and Pakistan said in the latest skirmishes between the nuclear-armed neighbours. A teenage boy was killed and his grandmother wounded in Chorhai village in Pakistani Kashmir after "indiscriminate" firing from Indian troops, local official Raja Arsha ... read more
News From Across The Stans
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|