Afghanistan: Slaughtering hearts and minds in the longest war

This is the fifth installment in a series on issues of War or Peace.

What’s there to say about this war? It’s the oldest in US history. It seems like it’s been dragging on forever, and yet it also seems to be a forgotten war. I wonder if anyone even thinks about it anymore?

Perhaps the Afghans, who lost family members, or lost their poor pillaged country, once again, to endless destruction, terror and violence? Perhaps the soldiers, sent once again to fight a senseless war, and lost their limbs, lost their buddies, or loss their sanity? Perhaps the brave peace activists from Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who never fail to care?

The media never seemed to pay it much attention. I have a whole file drawer stuffed with articles and news clippings about the Bush wars in Iraq, but only one meager file folder about the never-ending war in Afghanistan. I search my brain: what was the war called? The Americans, (as well as their Israeli pals), are always adept at coming up with catchy code names before they invade a country and wreak havoc. So I looked it up. They called it Operation Enduring Freedom when they attacked Afghanistan way back in October, 2001.

I suppose it may be hard to determine if the Afghan people feel more free than they did 17 years ago. I suspect it’s mostly about enduring.

I recall that I wrote a poem about the war back in early 2010, later published in the Atlanta Review. Even the poem seems ancient now. I had just heard General Stanley McChrystal say on NPR that “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.” Now I wonder: what happened to the box? Was it big enough to do the job? What happened to the government? And what happened to all the lucky people who were going to get this government, a gift courtesy of Uncle Sam?

So what was the pretense for this war? That Afghan people needed a government? No, not quite. As it happened, they’d already had quite a few governments, most provided by an assortment of other generous foreign benefactors.

But the September 11 attacks had happened. Much of the world was in sympathy with the US and this sympathy could have been parlayed into a plan to bring peace, stability and social development to the Mideast. Uncle Sam had new-found friends willing to help with this task. But Bush and the military decided an enemy would be more useful. Why not Afghanistan? No matter that Afghanistan had nothing to do with September 11. The attacks were planned, funded and carried out by people connected with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst dictatorships but also a US ally. So Bush bombed Afghanistan instead and thus began the realm of permanent warfare in the US empire.

This war for “enduring freedom” has been a long one, even if you start the clock on October 7 of 2001, but the war has deeper roots. US involvement in that country actually began around 1979, nearly 40 years ago. I learned this from an article in my file from CovertAction Quarterly, (CAQ), a magazine founded by former CIA officer turned agency critic Philip Agee. (The magazine ceased publication in 2005).

In May 1979, seven months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a CIA station chief in Islamabad met with Afghan mujahideen in Peshawar, Pakistan and agreed to supply them with arms. (This tidbit was actually attributed to Alfred McCoy, the University of Wisconsin historian and expert on CIA drug trafficking).

Once the Soviets invaded on December 24, 1979, and installed their own pro-Soviet government, the US began to support the Pakistan-based resistance more fully. From 1979 to ’89, more than half of the $5-6 billion in CIA aid went to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord with an unsavory reputation and renowned for his violence, who was both anti-Soviet and anti-US. With Uncle Sam’s money, he made war on the Soviets, as well as other resistance groups, while becoming the country’s leading drug lord.

Guns, money and aid from the CIA and Saudi Arabia were funneled through Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which “ensured that the more Islamist elements among the resistance got the plums of foreign assistance,” noted the CAQ article. “From the start, the US was aware that its aid was fostering a form of warlordism within the Afghan resistance … and that the … strategy of rewarding some resistance factions at the expense of others was undermining any chance of developing a “credible” non-Communist leadership.”

The US continued to supply Hekmatyar with arms even after the Soviets left and even after the US ambassador to Pakistan attested that the aid had stopped. Fighting between the various mujahideen factions intensified, with much of the struggle over who would control the drug trade rather than who would lead the state.

Training camps for Islamist fighters sprung up in eastern Afghanistan, in areas under Hekmatyar’s party’s control and “many of the participants in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center claimed to have had combat experience with Hekmatyar’s troops.” Someone convicted in the 90’s of plotting to blow up US airliners supposedly bragged of getting training in terrorist tactics in bases such as these.

“It became clear by 1994, five years after the Soviet withdrawal, that the so-called Afghan freedom fighters had turned their country into “a breeding ground for drugs and terrorism,”” the CAQ article concluded, citing stories in the New York Times and New York Times Magazine.

Then came the Taliban, fanatical students from the madressas, Islamic religious schools, many in Pakistan, and funded by the Saudis. Launching their first assault from a base in Pakistan in October 1994, they took advantage of all the discord and corruption among the Mujahideen warlords and quickly seized Kabul and about two-thirds of the country’s provinces. It’s not clear if the US had supported the Taliban all along, certainly Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had, but on the day the rebels captured Kabul, a State Department spokesperson acclaimed they might be “the group that might finally bring stability to Afghanistan.”

Stability was the one thing that Uncle Sam yearned for in Afghanistan, not so much so that the people could live in peace, but because it was good for business. Business in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, revolved around oil. Uncle Sam wanted to be warm and snugly with a government in Kabul so that it could pursue plans for a natural gas pipeline and an oil pipeline project involving the US firm Unocal, (now merged with Chevron), and the Saudi group Delta Oil.

Way back in the mid-90s, the two companies reached an agreement with Turkmenistan, the former Soviet republic, for a Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. It would stretch from the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea region of Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan to Pakistan and into India.

Afghan mapA consortium to construct the pipeline, led by Unocal, was formed in 1996 and Robert Oakley, the US ambassador to Pakistan, joined up the following year. In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement to allow the project to proceed. But when two American embassies were bombed later than year, the US alleged that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, which led to a falling out with the Taliban. Unocal withdrew from the consortium that December and closed its offices in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When negotiations with the Taliban stalled again in late 2001, the Bush Administration threatened them with war, according to some accounts, wrote Frank Blair and Julie Byrnes Enslow in an issue of the Peace Action Wisconsin newsletter in September 2010. “The attack on 9/11 was the needed trigger to launch a war on Afghanistan. Plans had been drawn up in advance,” they wrote.

Hamid Karzai, whom the US installed as Afghan president after the invasion, had been a Unocal adviser and a key collaborator in the pipeline plans, Blair and Enslow pointed out. Karzai signed the December 2002 deal on the pipeline along with the leaders of Turkmenistan and Pakistan.

Although Bush may have started it, Afghanistan became Obama’s war. He embraced it from the start, calling it a “good war” during his presidential campaign. What was bad under Bush became abominable under Obama. Hardly a month into his presidency he announced he would withdraw 100,000 troops from Iraq while ordering three brigades of troops – 17,000 soldiers and Marines – to Afghanistan to join the 30,000 Americans already there. The ugly pattern would continue to repeat itself: every time the US increased its forces, the insurgency grew stronger and the influence of the Taliban spread.

Not that he wasn’t warned. Most of the articles in my file are from the first two Obama years, with everyone from former Wisconsin Congressman David Obey to Amy Goodman cajoling, pleading and demanding that the president take a different path than his predecessor. He didn’t listen.

Here was Joe Galloway, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, the week Obama made his first fateful decision to send more troops: “The nation we set out to free from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and visit with the blessings of democracy has paid a hellish price for its salvation: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered in civil war and ethnic cleansing and as collateral damage in the war. Millions more have been forced from their homes and turned into refugees … Now we wait to hear how many of the American troops leaving Iraq will be retrained and recycled into a potentially disastrous war in Afghanistan that’s dragged on even longer.

“The Taliban insurgents now have a chokehold on as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, and they’re proving to be flexible and adaptive in their attacks on American, NATO and Afghan forces.

“If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we’ve tried in the last eight years has, either.”

And here’s Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Program of the American Friends Service Committee, in a column published in the Madison Cap Times: “The mistaken “logic” underlining the contradictions of massively increasing the number of US warriors sent to Afghanistan is to increase bargaining leverage with the Taliban. Obama wants to augment US influence in Afghanistan before the US approves Karzai negotiations with the Taliban or publicly begins them on its own.

“Unfortunately, like LBJ and Nixon, Obama’s approach won’t work. With its corruption, its reliance on repressive and misogynist warlords, and the deaths and suffering of civilians caused by US-NATO attacks, Afghan hearts and minds will not rally to the Karzai government or to US forces. Similar to the failures of “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s, the idea that the US will be able to triple the size of the Afghan military, isolate it from corrupting warlord and Karzai government influences, and provide it with modern warfighting capabilities in just two years is a deadly pipe dream.

“This leads to a situation analogous to that described in the Pentagon Papers in which 85 percent of the reason for continuing the Vietnam War, and even escalating it, will be “perception,” to defend the image of the US as a military superpower that must not be challenged.”

One of the most cogent arguments to end the war was written by Sonali Kohlhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, less than a year into the Obama presidency. It was published in Foreign Policy in Focus and reprinted in Toward Freedom. With little debate among progressives about how bad the war was, she warned that the opportunity to end the war “is slipping through our fingers.”

She outlined the way that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were similar: how they killed both civilians and soldiers, made women less safe, the occupations were both unpopular on the ground and led to greater instability, and that “our tax dollars are being disappeared into a sinkhole of destruction rather than human needs.” Where they differed, she said, was that progressives were clear from the start about Iraq but Afghanistan “seems to confuse our moral compass.”

“Our actions in Afghanistan have caused a perfect storm of untold numbers of civilian deaths, fundamentalist resurgence, and women’s oppression … If ever the Afghanistan war had any legitimacy, it’s irreversibly gone,” she wrote.

“One of the original justifications for the war that seemed to resonate most with liberal Americans was the liberation of Afghan women from a misogynist regime,” she said. “What this logic misses is that the United States chose right from the start to sell out Afghan women to its misogynist fundamentalist allies on the ground. The US armed the

Afghan refugee girl

Afghan girl named Nasila in refugee camp in Passau, Germany in August, 2015. Credit: Jazzmany

Mujahideen leaders in the 1980s against the Soviet occupation, opening the door to successive fundamentalist governments including the Taliban. In 2001, the United States then armed the same men, now called the Northern Alliance, to fight the Taliban and then welcomed them into the newly formed government as a reward. The American puppet president Hamid Karzai, in concert with a cabinet and parliament of thugs and criminals, passed one misogynist law after another, appointed one fundamentalist zealot after another to the judiciary, and literally enabled the downfall of Afghan women’s rights over eight long years … add to this the unacceptably high number of innocent women and children killed in US bombing raids, which has also increased the Taliban’s numbers and clout.

 

“Those who make the case that withdrawing US troops will unleash another bloody civil war where Afghan women and men will be at the mercy of the Taliban and warlords, are raising the exact same justification made for the war in 2001: that it’s our moral duty to protect Afghans from fundamentalist violence. This logic ignores the fact that we have nurtured and created the very fundamentalist violence that targets Afghans.”

In March, 2011, Sojourners magazine ran a number of articles about the war in Afghanistan. Jim Wallis, the editor, in a column called Hearts & Minds, wrote that the monetary cost of the war was more than $100 billion a year and that the two wars together had already cost the country about $1.3 trillion in the preceding decade.

We are paying billions for weapons systems the military didn’t ask for and doesn’t need, Wallis said. “The amount of money spent on war is no longer tenable. It is time for the war in Afghanistan to end. Our financial and spiritual health depends on it.”

In another article, David Cortright, director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, wrote that military means had always been the first resort, not the last, in Afghanistan. More than 90 percent of all spending for the country had gone through the Pentagon, he said, and Bob Woodward’s account of Obama’s 2009 strategic review showed that nonmilitary options were never considered.

“Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have long supported the Taliban,” Cortright wrote. “The United States has responded to this dilemma by pressuring a reluctant Pakistani army to wage war against its own people. The US has also taken matters into its own hands by mounting frequent drone bombing strikes, commando raids, and targeted assassinations across the border. These actions have alienated and enraged many Pakistanis and are generating greater support for the insurgency the US is attempting to suppress, threatening to destabilize Pakistan itself and fueling extremism across the region.”

“The number of US military raids has increased sharply with the administration’s military surge, and this has created deepening resentment and anger among many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai … The current strategy of large-scale counterinsurgency and targeted bombing is questionable morally, unwinnable militarily, and unsustainable politically.”

In yet another Sojourner’s article, Eric Stoner, a professor and freelance journalist, reported on his travels to Afghanistan in late 2010 with Voices for Creative Nonviolence. More than 30 years of war had left the country in a “perpetual state of crisis,” Stoner reported. Afghanistan had the lowest life expectancy in the world, he said, as well as the worst infant mortality rate, with one of every four children not surviving to see their fifth birthday.

He recounted visiting a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, full of people who had fled their homes in Helmand province after a US military offensive. A man showed him black-and-white photos of his children, killed during a US bombardment.  “To add insult to injury,” Stoner noted, residents of the camp “must look every day at the enormous US military base that is being constructed on a hill overlooking the squalid camp.”

For the cost of just 246 soldiers in Afghanistan for a year, he said, the US could fully pay for higher education for the entire country.

Robert Scheer, the award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of Truthdig, penned an essay in 2010 called The High Price of Patriotism. “Our military investments recruit rather than combat terrorists, but that is not a bad outcome if the goal is greater instability as an excuse to keep defense spending absurdly high despite the end of the Cold War two decades ago,” he wrote. “Our military budget … is nothing more than a profit and jobs center for the defense industry, which has its tentacles in every congressional district. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were never about combating terrorism, which is a supranational phenomena anchored in neither country.

“Patriotism is always in the eye of the beholder, so why is Karzai’s patriotism tawdrier than that of the executives of Lockheed and Boeing who still build planes designed to evade Soviet air defenses that were never created?, Scheer said.

“Karzai is now playing the patriot who will line the pockets of his most influential countrymen … He is proving to be a substantial leader, corrupt as he may be, in that he is no longer willing to play the puppet. This sort of rebellion happened before in Vietnam when Ngo Dinh Diem, the US-imposed liberator, turned against us and our CIA assassinated him. How long before Karzai meets a similar fate?

“This fatal syndrome in American imperial designs is well known to Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s key civilian adviser, who played a similar role in Vietnam. Back then, when Holbrooke was involved in the Phoenix assassination program (he now is involved with the drone assassinations), the reckless murder of civilians was aimed at winning their hearts and minds. It didn’t work because we destroyed too many of their bodies in the process.

“The arrogance of these adventures in nation-building represents an enduring example of America’s deeply provincial and blindingly self-centered role in the world. That Holbrooke has learned nothing from his trail of deceit posing as diplomacy is not so startling given the obtuse nature of the man, but that Obama has entrusted this most critical aspect of his foreign policy to the likes of a hack like Holbrooke is truly depressing.”

On October 3, 2015, two Nobel Peace Prize winners came head-to-head with each other in Kunduz, Afghanistan. One bombed the hell out of the other. (The US and Britain had officially ended their combat operations in the country one year earlier, but more on that later.)

Doctors Without Borders, (Médecins Sans Frontieres, (MSF) as they are known elsewhere), opened the Kunduz Trauma Center in August 2011. It was the only facility of its kinds in northeastern Afghanistan, providing high-quality, free surgical care to victims of general trauma, including traffic accidents and conflict-related injuries. During 2014, the hospital had cared for more than 22,000 patients and performed 4,241 surgeries.

Before the facility opened, Doctors Without Borders participated in comprehensive negotiations with all parties to the conflict, discussing the nature of their work and reaching agreements regarding respect for the neutrality of the medical facility and activities. The agreement was grounded in International Humanitarian Law (IHL). MSF affirmed that a strict “no weapons” policy would be enforced at all times in the compound. The location and GPS coordinates of the facility were shared repeatedly with all relevant parties.

As heavy fighting broke out in Kunduz, the MSF staff launched a mass casualty plan for wounded patients and increased the number of beds. At first, government troops composed the bulk of those wounded in the fighting, then it shifted to more Taliban seeking treatment. In the week before the bombing, staff treated 376 patients in the ER, more than a quarter women and children under 15.

On the night of October 2, it was calm around the hospital. There was no fighting and no planes overhead. The staff was busy trying to catch up; there were 150 patients in the hospital and about 150 staff too. The building was brightly lit and spread across the roof was a large white and red flag reading Médecins Sans Frontieres.

Here’s a couple paragraphs from an MSF report about what happened next:

Between 2:00 am and 2:09 am on October 3, the first in what would be a sustained series of precise airstrikes was launched targeting the main hospital building. The first strike killed two patients on operating tables, among others, and drove staff to seek shelter in the sterilization room. The explosions woke MSF international staff members sleeping in the administrative building, where an MSF nurse arrived covered in debris and blood, his left arm hanging from a small piece of tissue. Medics provided immediate treatment to stabilize him.

Amidst ongoing volleys of fire and a series of ground-shaking explosions, many staff heard something that sounded like a propeller plane circling the hospital–consistent with reports that an American AC-130 gunship carried out the attacks. Many staff described seeing people shot as they ran from the main hospital building. Staff also recounted a patient in a wheelchair killed by shrapnel as he attempted to escape, an MSF doctor getting his leg blown off, people running while on fire before falling to the ground, and a staff member decapitated by shrapnel. Fire also hit the southern area of the compound, where two unarmed MSF guards were later found dead from shrapnel wounds.

The airstrikes stopped between 60 and 75 minutes after they started. About 42 people were killed in the attack, including 14 staff members. Six intensive care patients were burned to death in their beds. Surviving medical staff collected supplies, converted an administrative office into a makeshift emergency room, triaged patients, and began treating the wounded. Surgeries were performed on an office desk and a kitchen table.

Kunduz hospital bombing

At the time of the airstrikes on MSF’s hospital in Kunduz, the operating facilities were in use. There were patients on the tables being attended to by surgeons and other medical staff. Credit: Dan Sermand/MSF

The US military initially claimed the airstrike was carried out to defend US forces on the ground. Later, the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, said the strike was requested by Afghan forces that had come under Taliban fire. After an investigation, Campbell said the incident was “the direct result of avoidable human error, compounded by process and equipment failures.” Sixteen members of the US military were disciplined but none were criminally charged. Cockpit recording showed that the AC-130 crew questioned the strike’s legality.

 

Doctors Without Borders was clear about calling the attack a war crime. “This is not solely about whether or not Yemen or Afghanistan are safe for aid workers … It’s about how countries fighting wars under the banner of counterterrorism too often seek to extricate themselves from the bounds of international treaties and conventions. This was part of the post-9/11 rhetoric coming out of the US, when Bush administration officials labeled the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” and it relates to how the US’s drone program, to name one, operates now. This is how Russia conducted itself in Chechnya and elsewhere and is now conducting itself in Syria, where it bombed several medical centers in the first weeks of its overt involvement in the country. This is certainly how the Assad regime directs its campaign against its people.”

Bombing the hospital was just one of many incidents in the war that served to lose “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.

There was the case, on March 4, 2007 when US Marines, reacting to a suicide attack in Spinpul in Nangarhar Province, proceeded to slaughter a dozen civilians, including a one-year-old child. The soldiers sprayed bystanders “with machine-gun fire in a rampage that covered 10 miles of highway,” according to the New York Times.

A 16-year-old newly-married girl was killed while carrying a bundle of grass to her farmhouse to feed the animals. A car was hit and shredded by 250 bullets; the driver survived but two elderly men and a 16-year-old boy died. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son couldn’t recognize the body when he arrived at the scene.

Later that year, eight civilians, including a pregnant woman and a baby, died when a Polish unit shelled the village of Nangar Khel a few hours after an insurgent IED ambush damaged a Polish armored vehicle. Seven soldiers were charged with war crimes after locals stated that the unit fired mortar rounds and machine guns into a wedding celebration without provocation.

This incident was interesting to research in that reports from the Polish military command were included in the 91,731 classified documents released by WikiLeaks on

Afghan kids with signs

Afghan family protests at White House after US Army Staff Sargent Robert Bales charged with 17 counts of murder for killing 8 adults and 9 children in Afghanistan. Washington, DC, March 25, 2012. Credit: Will E. Davis, Shutterstock

July 25, 2010. A “consequence management team” from the Polish Battle Group (PBG), including a general and colonel and a Governor Khapalwak, visited the village a day after the attack, just as the last of the victims was being buried.

The Governor addressed the entire burial party and then heard complaints from the people gathered. “Men speaking on behalf of the crowd stated that they are a very poor people,” read the official report. “They hate the Taliban because the Taliban come into their village and steal money from them and tell them to feed their troops. They hate the Americans because they bomb our homes. (The villagers were not aware that Polish troops were now working the area.) The villagers felt the Americans acted the same as the Soviets, coming to Afghanistan under the pretense of helping the country but then proceeding to kill villagers.”

In 2011, a Polish military court cleared the soldiers of all crimes. “The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign forces, usually during air strikes or night-time raids, is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has complicated efforts to win support from ordinary Afghans,” the Reuters account noted.

On September 4, 2009, it was a Colonel Georg Klein, a German officer with a NATO unit, who ordered US jets to bomb two tankers that had been hijacked in the Taliban-controlled district of Chahar Dora near Kunduz. About 142 people, primarily civilians, died in the attack, but German lawyers and journalists later claimed that 179 civilians were killed.

Nearly a year later, Der Spiegel reported that the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, had agreed to compensate relatives of civilian victims with a payment of $5,000. Initially the army did not take any action on the case, the report noted, and, contrary to NATO regulations, did nothing to investigate the impact of the air strikes.

The compensation agreement did not include any admission of guilt. Military attorneys said that Germany’s recent reclassification of the Afghanistan mission as a “non-international armed conflict,” (a war), meant that the victims no longer had any legal claims.

So what should Americans call this conflict that was once called a war, our longest war, the war for “enduring freedom”? Is it still a war? I don’t know; perhaps you can figure it out. I scrolled through page after page of Wikipedia’s account of the conflict, hoping to gain some clarity.

What I found was that the “ending” of this war is elusive; it’s as never-ending as the war itself. Part of it is probably just the sticky nature of imperial counterinsurgency. Part of it is probably Obama’s great gift for getting liberals to believe one thing while he was doing another. About the same time he was surging, he was promising to withdraw.

In January of 2012, Karzai and Obama met in the United States and the US stated it was willing to withdraw all its troops by the end of 2014. In May of 2012, the NATO countries began announcing their intended exit from Afghanistan and Obama and Karzai signed an “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.” (There’s that word enduring again.)

But as troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan, they were replaced by private security companies. (Eric Stoner pointed out that, for the first time in history, more private contractors lost their lives than did soldiers during the first six months of 2010 in Afghanistan.)

On May 27, 2014, Obama announced that US combat operations in Afghanistan would end that December. On October 26, both the US and Britain officially ended their combat operations in Afghanistan. But unofficially nothing much seemed to change.

In 2015, according to Wikipedia, “American forces increased raids against Islamist militants, moving beyond counterterrorism missions.” This was partially due to improved relations between the two countries when Ashraf Ghani was elected president in September, 2014. “Reasoning used for these raids include protecting American forces, which has been broadly interpreted,” Wikipedia noted.

In March, Reuters reported that US military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad were likely to remain open beyond 2015, as the US considered slowing its withdrawal to help the new government fight the Taliban. Throughout 2015, the US launched about 1,000 bombs and missiles at targets in Afghanistan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

In January 2016, the Obama administration sent a directive to the Pentagon granting new legal authority for the military to go on the offensive in Afghanistan. In June, Obama approved a policy to give the US military greater ability to “accompany and enable Afghan forces fighting the Taliban,” a decision allowing greater use of US air power. In July, Obama announced plans to leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan when he finished his term.

That September, the Afghan government signed a peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami, the organization led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. (Remember him?). The group agreed to cease hostilities, cut ties to extremist groups and respect the Afghan constitution. Hekmatyar was promised an honorary position in the government.

In February 2017, the Huffington Post reported that, according to a UN report, US aircraft conducted about 30 air strikes in Helmand Province in the preceding week. In April of last year, the Trump Administration deployed an additional 5,000 US Marines to Southern Helmand Province. On April 13, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb, the 21,600 pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), known endearingly as the “Mother of All Bombs,” on a village in eastern Afghanistan.

And so it goes.

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Next Time:  Bush War I: The Beginning of Permanent War
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