On October 7th, the war in Afghanistan will have reached its 17-year anniversary, a dubious commemoration which conjures few, if any, positive sentiments. A little-reported phenomenon – supposed Afghan soldiers killing U.S. and NATO affiliated troops from inside the allied ranks – is a tragic, too-frequent reminder of how little progress has been made in the nation and the region since the West staked its claim at the beginning of the millennium.
Now the longest-running war in American history, the sitting president has acknowledged the sacrifices and horrors that prompted U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and those that unfolded as soldiers engaged in an unfamiliar form of urban warfare characterized by the unpredictability of IEDs and the mercilessness of an enemy willing to use women and children as human explosives. But, as President Trump made clear in his comments in August of 2017, the United States will not be pulling out of Afghanistan anytime soon, despite such an exit being his initial instinct.
“…the consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.” (Whitehouse.gov)
Since the President’s comments, there’s not been much televised discussion on Capitol Hill or in the White House regarding the matter. But there’s been action on the ground, in accordance with the president’s vow to pursue a more aggressive strategy that would hopefully accelerate the end of America’s role in the conflict. With 14,000 American troops already occupying the nation, the first wave of an estimated 800 additional troops touched down in country in February.
‘The 1st Security Forces Assistance Brigade -- whose members will be dispersed at outposts throughout the country and be closer to the front lines of the war than most U.S. troops have been in years -- is a key component of the Trump administration's strategy for ending a stalemate with the Taliban.
Instead of advising high-ranking Afghan commanders, as is done now, the new brigade will work with battalion-level personnel. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan have often cited this as a vital, missing component of their advising efforts.’ (military.com)
Typically, one might consider an advisor role as less dangerous than those who are tasked purely with functioning as combatants. The ‘advisor’ tag is also aimed at creating the perception that the Afghans will eventually be able to police their own nation, allowing U.S. forces to finally withdraw.
But this is not reality. The reality for even a military advisor in Afghanistan is one of constant evaluation, because even one’s professed ally can become a threat, liable to turn violent at any moment, killing whoever happens to have slighted them, intentional or not.
‘About 557 Afghan security forces and 157 NATO personnel, including American service members, have been killed in 102 documented insider attacks since 2007, according to a study published last year by the Modern War Institute at West Point.’
The report says the largest percentage of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police—more than 40%—were driven by personal motives and grievances “rooted in personal insults, cultural misunderstanding, disrespect for religious beliefs and local norms, and [anger over] civilian casualties.”’
This is an illustration of just how great the gulf between American forces and Afghan troops is. How does one train, or trust, a group containing individuals who may be liable to turn on their brothers in arms at any moment?
This is the group from which we are expected to believe the future leaders of Afghanistan will emerge. This is the group who is expected to remain courageous, vigilant, composed in the face of near-constant threat from the Taliban. This is the group whose capabilities American soldiers are depending on to eventually allow the end of the war in Afghanistan. And this is the group who the Taliban routinely impersonates to gain easy access to the enemy, using the uniform as a Trojan horse.
‘About a quarter of the 102 attacks, however, were deliberately carried out by the Taliban using “infiltration, influence or impersonation,” according to the report, while another 14% were the result of the Taliban co-opting an Afghan soldier. In other words, the report says, “insider attacks have increasingly become the preferred war-fighting tactic of the Taliban.”’ (WSJ)
The most recent casualty of death by Afghan National was Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Bolyard, 42, of Thornton, West Virginia. Bolyard was killed by a member of the Afghan National Police, who fled but was captured. Bolyard is the sixth American killed in Afghanistan in 2018, and he was serving as one of the special advisors specifically tasked with training the Afghan troops. His family’s GoFundMe tells all that one needs to know about just how tragic these events are, and hits home the unfathomable sadness these murders bestow upon those left behind.
‘Less than 48 hours ago my family received a call that would change the lives of many people. My stepfather Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Bolyard was killed in Afghanistan. This man is a true hero who loved his country and payed the ultimate sacrifice. He leaves behind a beautiful new bride and a huge family who cared for him deeply. He was less than 2 months away from coming home and retiring. After 24 years of service and countless deployments the Lord called him home and I am positive he continues to watch over his family and country to keep us safe.’
Only days later, it was reported that Staff Sgt. Bryan McQueen, 29, was wounded when two Afghan police officers opened fire on U.S. troops in Camp Maiwand, where Timothy Bolyard had his life stolen as he attempted to help those who would prove the death of him. Fortunately, McQueen emerged from the attack alive, and is expected to return to the States shortly to recover from a “minor injury”.
McQueen and his mother, who wrote candidly on Facebook of her fear that her son could have died had circumstances been altered even slightly, asked that prayers be directed towards the family of Timothy Bolyard. It’s these realities of the split-seconds that can alter the course of reality which make the entire attempt at re-configuring and securitizing Afghan lands seem so utterly senseless.
American forces not only have to worry about the guaranteed threat that the Taliban represents, they cannot even be certain that those who profess to be their allies aren’t actually out for their blood. Seventeen years into the Afghan war, and the Afghan national guard which was supposed to have taken the reigns of its own nation is not even close to doing so, while their uniform serves as a veil under which turncoats and the Taliban disguise themselves. And, as a opioid epidemic rages in the United States, opium production in Afghanistan was at an all-time high in 2017. After seventeen years, even the poppy fields have proven beyond the reach of American forces.
But, we’re still told that, with time, stability in a nation characterized by little more than instability and terror will be within grasp. But this is no reality. In a nation whose largest cash crop is the opium, it’s fair to characterize the American vision for peace in Afghanistan as a pipe dream.