Fifteen years into the Afghan War, Obama tells U.S. forces they can kinda sorta help more with the fight

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Friday June 10th, 2016

Any day now.

I seriously wonder if the war in Afghanistan will still be going on in another 15 years. Or another after that. We went in on October 7, 2001 - less than a month after the Twin Towers fell and expressly because the Taliban had aided and harbored Al Qaeda in the run-up to the attacks. Even liberals who hated the Iraq War claimed to support this one because our having been attacked first made this the "good war."

When Obama ran for president in 2008, he said he wanted to get out of Iraq so we could focus on winning in Afghanistan, since that's who attacked us on 9/11. Not entirely accurate, and not an especially solid rationale, but it least he seemed clear about what he wanted to do and why.

Well, we got out of Iraq - refusing in 2011 to sign a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government and beginning the process of turning that country over to ISIS. Obama took a war that had been won and intentionally lost it. All this was supposed to be so we could win the good war in Afghanistan.

How's that going? Not well. Although Obama announced that we would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 2014 - win or lose - we neither won nor withdrew. The Taliban may have been toppled quickly from power, but they certainly never gave up the fight, and the U.S. can't seem to decide at this point if we're still fighting them or not. Today, two years after that supposed withdrawal date, we're suddenly a little more in. Again:

President Barack Obama has approved giving the U.S. military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces battling a resilient Taliban insurgency, in a move to assist them more proactively on the battlefield, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision would also allow greater use of U.S. air power, particularly close air support.

However, the official cautioned: "This is not a blanket order to target the Taliban."

Obama's decision again redefines America's support role in Afghanistan's grinding conflict, more than a year after international forces wrapped up their combat mission and shifted the burden to Afghan troops.

It also comes ahead of Obama's eagerly anticipated decision on whether to forge ahead with a scheduled reduction in the numbers of U.S. troops from about 9,800 currently to 5,500 by the start of 2017.

A group of retired generals and senior diplomats urged Obama last week to forgo those plans, warning they could undermine the fight against the Afghan Taliban, whose leader was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan last month.

So we can "accompany and enable," but it's not a "blanket order to target the Taliban." Does anyone know what that means? And why does it take a bunch of "retired generals and senior diplomats" to explain to Obama that if you cut the number of deployed troops almost in half, it will make it less likely that we succeed.

Whatever success even means anymore in this war. We don't seem to have the will or a way to wipe out the Taliban completely, probably because the Taliban is as much an idea and a movement as it is a group of people. I'm not saying there's no value to killing them, and I'm certainly not buying the trite liberal nonsense that says every time you kill a terrorist, you just create 30 more. I'm simply saying that if you fight a war you should know how you're going to win it.

Beyond the initial step of ousting the Taliban from power, I don't think the Bush Administration quite knew how it was going to win this thing either, as evidenced by the fact that the war dragged on throughout Bush's presidency. For all the criticism of the Iraq War and how badly it was supposedly going, the 2007 surge delivered a decisive victory. If not for Obama's politically driven withdrawal in 2011, Iraq would be stable today.

Afghanistan has been a different story from the start, and while I'm not saying we should have made the Taliban pay no price for what it did to aid the 9/11 attackers, I can't pinpoint any sort of strategy to real victory since the initial U.S.-precipitated change of regime there. Whether we just don't know how to win, or we're not willing to do whatever it takes because of the politics on the ground, we can't just stay there forever kinda sorta fighting but never really winning.

My preference would be to step up the fight and wipe the Taliban off the face of the Earth. I don't know if there's really a strategy that achieves that. If there is, we should undertake it. If there's not, or if we don't have leaders willing to do it, we should admit we're no longer committed to victory and stop leaving our troops over there under the pretense that we are.

A little more accompanying and enabling isn't going to do it.

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