The news today of two more US soldiers killed by an Afghan soldier armed and trained with American resources is a reminder that the US war there has gone off the rails.
For more than a decade now, the US public has been told the US was transforming Afghanistan from a place that once hosted Al Qaeda into a stable and more or less pro-American country that wouldn't harbor terrorists. That hasn’t ever really been true, but lately, with the United States preparing to leave and Afghans well aware of that fact, American efforts there have begun to take on a particularly futile hue.
Remember “the surge” masterminded by Gen. David Petraeus?
That came quietly to end last year, with little change in the political facts on the ground.
The two soldiers killed this morning, along with two Afghan officers and three cops, were murdered on a US base in Wardak – the troubled province on Kabul’s eastern flank. President Hamid Karzai recently ordered US Special Forces out of Wardak after accusing them of torture and murder in the province.
The orders – from the man the US installed as Afghan president all those years ago – came amid a string of anti-US rhetoric from him in recent months. Today was the deadline for those US troops whose job is to train Afghan soldiers and work with them to track down insurgents, to depart the province.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s pleading with Mr. Karzai on a visit yesterday to relent on Wardak apparently fell on deaf ears.
Or maybe Karzai didn’t hear him over his own insults against the US. Karzai blamed the US for conspiring with the Taliban to conduct two suicide bombings that claimed 19 lives on Sunday.
“The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that [the Taliban] are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014,” Karzai said in a nationally televised speech. “They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents."
While Karzai’s near-constant stream of anti-American jabs might seem a strange case of biting the hand that feeds him, his comments make domestic political sense.
The US military presence is unpopular among Afghans, and since Karzai and everyone else knows the US is leaving, he needs to make his own arrangements for his long-term political and financial survival.
With the gravy train pulling into the station he’s going to have to wheel and deal with the Taliban, Pakistan, private armies established thanks to US convoy protection contracts, opium lords, and prominent members of Afghanistan’s various ethnic groups, including his own Pashtuns.
Oh, and elected local politicians, too.
So with everyone in Afghanistan setting the table for the departure of most US troops by the end of next year – and perhaps all of them since there isn’t yet a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Afghanistan that would grant US soldiers immunity from Afghan prosecution, a necessary condition of a continued US military presence – hard questions need to be asked about what’s being bought with the blood of US soldiers in the interim.
There will be lots of talk in the coming months of not squandering all those lives already lost, all those billions of dollars sprinkled across Afghanistan.
But how many more lives and how much money will be required to ratify all that's already been lost? Will a few hundred more American dead change anything? Almost certainly not. Afghanistan’s president doesn’t seem to like the US, many of its soldiers seem happy to turn their guns on the US troops training them, and corruption is rampant.
Former Monitor South Asia bureau chief Ben Arnoldy wrote last week about Badakshan, considered one of the safest provinces in the country, noting that it’s also a hive of intrigue and backstabbing between local police and officials over control of drug-trafficking routes into Tajikistan.
Violence is rising there for much the same reason that violence rose on the streets of Chicago during Prohibition, though there might be even less distance between the Afghan gangsters and the government than there was between Al Capone and City Hall.
If Badakhshan has been one of those “safe” provinces where the transformative, nation-building magic of the US-led coalition was supposed to do its work all these years, imagine what it’s like in Wardak.