The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, as well as the recent recommendation from General Stanley McChrystal that we simply continue to “muddle along” in Afghanistan, brought to light again what a pointless and tragic muddle the whole exercise has been. The longest war in which American troops have fought is that in Afghanistan, which is now 17 years old. Nearly one trillion dollars have been spent by the American government on this effort, with no end in sight. There were once 100,000 American soldiers in the country; that number is now about 14,000. That’s progress, but no one in authority in Washington seems to want to leave Afghanistan entirely, allowing it to fight its own battles. The Taliban are back; the central government controls only 54 percent of the districts, and the rest — nearly half the country — is either under Taliban control, or is territory contested between the Taliban and government forces.
On August 11, there was a devastating attack by the Taliban on an Afghan commando base in the district of Ajristan, 90 miles west of Ghazni city. Afghan officials and soldiers fled; as many as 100 commandos and police officers were killed, according to a senior Afghan official. The Taliban control the battlefield: it is they who decide when and where to attack, and then to either fade away, or to stand and fight. In Ghazni, it seems they decided to attempt to conquer this strategically-placed city of 270,000. First, they managed to take all but two of the 18 rural districts surrounding the city. Then they lay siege, for five days, to the city, finally taking control of it, but then were dislodged by a combination of American bombings and Afghan troops on the ground. Aside from the one hundred Afghan soldiers and police killed in the initial attack on August 11, several hundred more Afghan soldiers were killed during the siege and takeover of Ghazni.