For all the billions of dollars spent on defense, diplomacy, and intelligence, with tens of thousands of Americans employed in each, American policymaking is disturbingly myopic. President George H.W. Bush only became involved in Somalia because of the television images of starving Somali children, and President Barack Obama would probably still be making excuses for zero American involvement in Syria had the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) not begun beheading American journalists and aid workers on camera.
With all the media focus the floundering war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and renewed Russian and Chinese bluster, there seems to be very little attention paid to the continuing war in Afghanistan. As American forces come home, an attitude of out-of-sight, out-of-mind seems to pervade Washington.
In short, Obama appears to be making the same mistake he made with regard to the Iraqi withdrawal. If he believes that a small force in Kabul equates to effectiveness, he is sorely mistaken. Today, Taliban forces attacked the Afghan parliament. Afghan forces fought them back, but they injured dozens of civilians. Kabul is a relative island among the rest of Afghanistan, though. The problem now is what is happening in the provinces.
Tolo Television is Afghanistan’s most popular and most credible television station. Enter into any (non-Taliban) Afghan household and chances are people will be watching football, Bollywood films, or newscasts on Tolo. Part of Tolo’s credibility is its independence. Even as he sought to consolidate power, former President Hamid Karzai was unable to bring Tolo under his own control. The same holds true for Karzai’s successor, Ashraf Ghani.
It is worrisome, then, that on June 21, the Tolo News reported that the strategically important city of Kunduz is on the verge of falling to the Taliban. From the Open Source Center’s translation of the newscast:
A clash is taking place between the Taliban and Afghan security forces inside Kunduz City. The head of the Kunduz provincial council, Mohammad Yusof Ayubi, told TV in a telephone conversation that the Taliban group started progressing toward Kunduz City as they captured Chahardara District last night. He also added that at least 12 army soldiers have been killed have so far and 16 wounded during these clashes while the Taliban have surrounded more than 70 of security forces in outskirts of the city. Mr Ayubi has also warned if the government does not dispatch fresh forces to the area, Kunduz will fall to the Taliban… The officials have also added that this clash links with the Kunduz fight and if the Taliban block the Kunduz highway, so all ways will be blocked for supporting Afghan forces in Kunduz Province.
It is all well and good for the Pentagon and State Department to insist that training programs for the Afghanistan army and security forces are effective and that the Afghan army can fight. Even if that’s true, fighting is only one capability of many needed for self-sufficiency. Logistics and intelligence are others. If the Taliban can infiltrate a provincial capital and hold out, and if other Afghan forces are unable to get there to provide relief, then it is time to face the fact that the future of Afghanistan may look a lot like Iraq and Syria. But then again, for Obama, the buck stops not in his Oval Office but with whoever succeeds him. By then, however, it may be too late.