Trump's Afghanistan Strategy Is Simply Old Wine in a New Bottle

Alaskan National Guard Pvt. Lathaniel Ulofoshio provides security for fellow members of Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team while conducting a site survey of the Sanjaray health clinic May 24, 2012 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Flickr / The U.S. Army

If America goes all-in on Afghanistan and fails, it'll be easier to walk away.

Afghanistan has suffered through a harrowing summer, even by the nightmarish standards of a country convulsed by conflict for decades.

On May 31, a truck bomb exploded in Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic enclave, killing more than 150 people. On June 2, Afghans, furious about their government’s failure to provide security, took to the streets of Kabul. Security forces cracked down, killing at least five people. One of them was the son of the deputy leader of Afghanistan’s Senate. His funeral the next day, attended by top Afghan political leaders, was rocked by three explosions that killed at least twenty people.

This merciless cycle of violence continued unabated. Two bomb blasts at Shia Muslim mosques, one in Herat on June 6 and the other in Kabul on June 15, killed seven and four people, respectively. On June 18, an assault on a police station in eastern Afghanistan killed five officers. On June 20, eight Afghan guards employed at Bagram, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, were gunned down in an ambush as they headed to the base to work a night shift. And on June 22, a car bomb outside a bank in Helmand Province claimed at least thirty lives.

That’s at least 229 dead in just twenty-three days.

Against this bloody backdrop, the Trump administration plans to send several thousand more soldiers to Afghanistan—even as it continues to flesh out a broader strategy.

The decision to put more boots on the ground has made headlines, but the still-evolving strategy is far more consequential. Indeed, if the United States is to help arrest Afghanistan’s spiraling destabilization, it’ll need much more than troops to do so. And yet, what’s known about the emerging strategy so far inspires little confidence that the Trump administration will have any more success than its predecessor.

Make no mistake: A mini-surge will do little to rein in Afghanistan’s recent orgy of violence, much less tame the Taliban insurgency. More than one hundred thousand American troops couldn’t do the trick during the height of the surge in 2010 and 2011, so you can bet your bottom dollar that dispatching a few thousand troops to reinforce the current 8,500 won’t either—even with the improvements in Afghan warfighting capacities in recent years.