The decision to halt troop withdrawals and keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is further evidence of the failure of American policy. After 14 years of military effort—with more than 2,300 U.S. troops killed, thousands more severely wounded, and the expenditure so far of more than $700 billion—the United States has been unable to suppress the Taliban or stabilize the country behind a legitimate government capable of providing effective security.
The Taliban insurgency is stronger than ever and has gained control over significant parts of the country. The number of Afghan civilians and soldiers dying in the war is higher than ever and continues to rise.
Maintaining U.S. military forces in Afghanistan guarantees that the war will continue, although the U.S. State Department has said there is no military solution in Afghanistan. It further delays and diminishes the prospects for attempting to achieve a negotiated political agreement that could end the bloodshed. The continued presence of foreign forces reinforces the Taliban narrative—that it is fighting to free the country of foreign influence—and feeds violent extremism in the region.
President Obama’s decision comes in the wake of the appalling massacre two weeks ago that killed 22 doctors, nurses and patients at the Médécins sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz. An American AC-130 gunship repeatedly shelled a known medical facility, the largest in the area, and continued firing even after frantic MSF staff called American military headquarters pleading for a halt to the attack. MSF has charged that the incident was a violation of the Geneva Conventions and possibly a war crime.
How can the U.S. presume to have moral authority to act on behalf of Afghanistan after such an atrocity, and after the futility of its efforts through so many years at such high human cost?
Yes, the prospects for Afghanistan are grim. Many of the hopes for security, human rights and democracy that motivated the international intervention remain unfulfilled. But continuing to pursue military solutions will not work, and will likely make matters worse. The moral costs of continuing the war outweigh any conceivable military outcome.
It is long past time for the United States to focus instead on the pursuit of negotiations to resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan and the region through political means rather than war.