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?