Donald Trump said little about Afghanistan during the 2016 election, but his criticism of military interventionism raised the possibility he would try to extricate the US from a war that has lasted 16 years, cost $750bn dollars, and killed more than 2,300 US soldiers.
Not so. Trump’s advisers have reportedly suggested he send at least 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, where more than 8,000 American soldiers are already deployed. NATO may also dispatch “a few thousand” additional troops, including some from the UK.
This so-called “mini-surge” has been justified by government officials as necessary to reverse Taliban gains in the country. And, indeed, the war has been going very badly for the US and its allies. The Afghan government now controls less territory than at any time since 2001. Civilian casualties are at record highs. Military fatalities have escalated alarmingly.
One can therefore understand why Trump, who campaigned on an anti-interventionist platform, may now want to counterattack in Afghanistan. But military escalation has been tried unsuccessfully before. President Obama surged tens of thousands of American servicemen into the country in 2010, bringing total American troop levels to about 100,000.
Those extra troops helped temporarily clear areas in southern Afghanistan of the Taliban. But the gains were ephemeral. If tens of thousands of additional soldiers failed to provide lasting security then, why would fewer troops make any difference now?
It could be argued that the Afghan army, which has received extensive training from the US, is now stronger than it was in 2010. That might be true, but it still suffers from desertions and low motivation. An appalling Taliban attack on a base in northern Afghanistan last month, which killed 170, showed how vulnerable the army still is.
Afghanistan’s security has also been undermined by a weak and divided administration in Kabul. The ruling National Unity Government was brokered in 2014 after a disputed election. The two candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, entered a power-sharing agreement, with Ghani taking the presidency, and Abdullah becoming Chief Executive.
However, the government has been deeply ineffective and seems on the brink of meltdown. Ghani has allegedly been marginalising Abdullah. Furthermore, the administration is divided along ethnic lines, with Ghani’s office packed with his fellow Pashtuns, and…