December 31st was supposed to be the last day of the U.S. involvement in the long Afghanistan war. It will no longer be the case. A recent order by President Barack Obama extends the direct U.S. involvement for one more year.
Obama became president amid expectations that he would put an end to the presence of U.S. soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The wars initiated by the previous administration had exhausted the American people’s patience.
The President had announced last May that the role of the almost 10,000 remaining troops would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al-Qaida.”
However, situations change.
First of all, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq failed to produce the expected results. The government of former first minister Nouri al-Maliki did everything it could to hinder a U.S. presence increase after the official withdrawal. At the same time, his Shiite government further inflamed religious tensions as it excluded and prosecuted the Sunnis.
Add to all this the weakness of the Iraqi troops to complete a breeding ground that permitted the extraordinary advance of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraqi territory.
Secondly, the new Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani views more favorably the presence of U.S. troops. At the same time, there is an upsurge of Taliban activity.
All of this, combined with the bad experience in Iraq, will mean that U.S. soldiers will keep fighting the Taliban and the Afghan government’s enemies. This, even though NATO troops keep their withdrawal planned for the end of the year.
The 13-year Afghanistan war confirms what’s already known about this type of conflict: Exit is the most difficult part. This nation is not a terrorist hub anymore, and the Al-Qaida threat has moved elsewhere. However, the Afghan government’s stability is as fragile as its own troops.
This is a reflection of the failure of a war that has cost thousands of millions of dollars, the lives of 2,300 U.S. soldiers, and more to come