The journalist and veteran of Middle East diplomacy Alon Ben-Meir has an opinion piece in the Japan Times under the all too accurate headline, “Afghanistan: A morally corrupting catastrophe“.
Sixteen years have passed and the United States is still fighting a war in Afghanistan. The war is not only the longest in American history (at a cost approaching $1 trillion and the blood of thousands of brave soldiers), but one which is morally corrupting from which there seems to be no exit with any gratification but shame.
It was necessary to invade Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaida following 9/11, but once it was defeated we should have departed…
Nearly 2,400 American soldiers have been killed and 20,000 wounded, and over 33,000 Afghan civilians have lost their lives. A record number of civilians — 1,662 — were killed in the first six months of 2017 alone, and over 3,581 civilians were wounded.
Overall, Afghan casualties are estimated at 225,000, with 2.6 million Afghan refugees and more than 1 million persons internally displaced.
The cost of the war to date is approximately $783 billion; the cost for each soldier is $3.9 million per year.
If we were to divide the war’s cost among Afghanistan’s 30 million citizens, it would amount to $33,000 per head. The ordinary Afghan has derived zero benefit from this in a country where the average annual per capita income was only $670 in 2014.
Though Ben-Meir approaches the post-invasion history of Afghanistan from something of an Amerocentric viewpoint, and his emphasis on the country’s “tribalism” is overstated, he is at least correct in placing the emphasis on an Afghan solution for an Afghan problem.
Meanwhile, the dysfunctional administration of president Donald Trump seems to be contemplating the revival of an American solution for an American problem: the privatisation of war. Step forward the Washington Post’s regular conservative wingnut Richard Cohen, discussing:
…a plan developed by Erik Prince that would entail turning over a substantial part of the Afghanistan effort to “contracted European professional soldiers” — what you and I call mercenaries. The term has an odious connotation, but there is no avoiding it. Prince is referring to British, French, Spanish and other Europeans who are experienced soldiers. They would not, as is now the case with Americans, be rotated out of the country after a period of time to the effect that, in a sense, the United States is always starting anew. These contract soldiers would get about $600 a day to command Afghan troops and be embedded with them…
I took the phrase “contracted European professional soldiers” from an op-ed Prince wrote for the Wall Street Journal. It seems the president read it and was intrigued. Good. The plan has its virtues, the most obvious one being that nothing else has worked — and more of the same is going to produce more of the same. The plan also has its difficulties, one of them being its provenance. Prince is the founder of the highly controversial security firm Blackwater…
If Prince remains controversial, he also remains influential. He’s a former Navy SEAL who has entry to the White House and the CIA, and his sister is Betsy DeVos, the education secretary. Like his sister, Prince is rich and indefatigable. He has been peddling his Afghanistan plan for more than a year, and while it is frequently described with the pejorative term “for profit,” it has, as Prince contends, a pedigree. “Contract Europeans” were used by the British East India Company to rule India for more than 100 years.
Prince’s references to colonial rule are admiring. He has even revived the term “viceroy” to describe the person who would direct American policy in Afghanistan.
…The viceroy would run things.