The war in Afghanistan effectively ended last week. We lost.
The last of the surge troops President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan were quietly withdrawn. They did not leave in triumph:
- Taliban guerrillas dressed in U.S. Army uniforms attacked Camp Bastion in southern Afghanistan, Sept. 14, destroying 8 Marine Harrier jump jets. It was our greatest loss of aircraft since the Vietnam war. For VMA-211, it was the greatest loss since the siege of Wake Island in World War II. The Harrier has been out of production for a decade, so the losses can't be replaced.
More Harriers likely would have been lost had not the squadron commander, Lt.Col. Christopher Raible, armed with only a pistol, battled the heavily armed guerrillas. He and another Marine were killed during the raid, which was so sophisticated some defense analysts think it was plotted by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Agency.
"The Taliban's major vulnerability is our mastery of the air, but if they can negate it, we are approaching tactical equality because they have home turf advantage," said former Special Forces soldier Michael Yon, who's spent more time in Afghanistan than any other war correspondent.
- The attack on Camp Bastion happened on a Friday. Two British and four American soldiers were killed by Afghan policemen the following Saturday and Sunday. After these attacks, NATO suspended most joint operations with Afghan security forces.
"We're to the point now where we can't trust these people," a senior military official told NBC's Pentagon correspondent. So far this year, 59 NATO troops have been killed in "green on blue" attacks.
As of Monday, 1,493 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, 70 percent of them since Barack Obama became president. About 15 percent of NATO troops killed this year have been killed by our purported Afghan allies. "Green on blue" attacks were virtually unheard of four years ago.
"The training mission is the foundation of the current strategy," said Joshua Foust, a journalist who reports on Central Asia. "Without that mission, the strategy collapses. The war is adrift, and it's hard to see how anyone can avoid a complete disaster at this point."
Spencer Ackerman, who writes about national security for Wired magazine, said failure in Afghanistan has "implications for the other wars the U.S. is fighting."
"Imagine yourself as a Yemeni insurgent," he said. The lesson you might draw from Afghanistan is that instead of fighting the government and its American advisors, "a smarter strategy is to join them to go through training, in preparation for the moment when, perhaps, you can get close enough to the Americans to open fire or detonate a bomb."
Defeat comes as no surprise to me. Thanks to Afghanistan's primitiveness; Pakistan's enmity (the Taliban is largely a creation of the ISI), and the corruption, incompetence and duplicity of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, our "nation-building" effort there was doomed, I've written for years.
Or to Army Lt.Col. Daniel Davis, who traveled more than 9,000 miles in Afghanistan in 2011. "In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal," he said.
But defeat may come as a shock to those who believed President Obama when he said Sept. 1: "We've broken the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead."
Despite its import, the bleak war news attracted little attention from the news media. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks in Libya and Egypt, this is perhaps understandable. But there has been little coverage of the Afghan war all year.
If George W. Bush were president, "there would be continuous coverage of the disarray in Afghanistan: the soldiers we're training are shooting us, the corruption is intensifying, and the opium trade spreading," said Prof. Walter Russell Mead, who teaches foreign policy at Bard College.
"These stories wouldn't be on the back pages," he said. "They'd be perceived as major news with profound implications for America's global position and the Sunday shows and nightly TV news round ups would be full of talking heads endlessly analyzing each wrinkle of the failure."
Defeat in Afghanistan is a big deal especially since we still have 68,000 troops in harm's way. It should have been reported even though it is embarrassing to President Obama.