The Trump administration has held numerous meetings with Taliban officials in an attempt to reach a compromise solution that would allow the United States to wind down its 18 years of military action in Afghanistan, while ensuring the country does not become a safe haven for Al Qaeda and now, Islamic State, to plot new attacks on the U.S., our allies or interests.
U.S. President Donald Trump then announced that he had broken off these talks, in the wake of a Taliban terrorist attack that killed a U.S. soldier. The Taliban, however, is stalling for time, in the hope that Trump withdraws all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, unilaterally.
So how do we create a reasonable deal?
The sad reality is that there is that there is no chance of a compromise with Islamist terror organizations such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS, or the Muslim Brotherhood from which they all sprang. Either we decide to win, or we decide to lose.
Losing is easy: We simply withdraw our troops and let the Taliban take over most or all of Afghanistan, after which they will then return the population to the 7th century. There would be no political price to pay in the United States, where Middle East wars are not politically popular.
Winning, in contrast, is quite challenging. The Taliban has been funded and armed by Pakistan, Iran, Qatar and other Gulf States, but we never forced those countries to stop this flow of funds, arms and war materiel. Had the Bush and Obama administrations taken these measures, and committed the resources necessary to win the war in Afghanistan, the United States would likely have saved hundreds of billions of dollars, if not a trillion dollars, which could have been used on urgent domestic priorities, such as rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure.
We are witnessing a somewhat different situation in Syria, with Trump announcing he is withdrawing some of America’s 1,000 soldiers from that country. Many with those with deep knowledge of the region are shocked at this decision, given how bravely the Kurds have fought alongside the American military and the camaraderie that both sides feel for each other. It is feared that our NATO “ally” Turkey, and our enemy Iran will simply fill the void, to the detriment of our loyal Kurdish allies and long-term U.S. security interests.
There is, however, a third choice that has not been tried, but should be.
The United States could withdraw perhaps 50% of the 16,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, but maintain strong special operations and intelligence capabilities. This smaller footprint, aided by drones and the U.S. Air Force, can simply bomb Taliban positions indefinitely, until it surrenders or is weakened to the point of irrelevancy. This way, the majority of the country’s people can begin living lives of peace and economic progress, and ideally begin adopting Western values such as individual liberty, separation of religion and government, and tolerance for differing faiths. This “solution” is not ideal, but stalemating the Taliban is the best that we can hope for.
In Syria we should return to the status quo immediately, with a small but effective military footprint. The Trump administration should tell Turkey to end its new offensive against our long-time Kurdish allies immediately, then return our soldiers to their outposts in this vital region, so they can continue working with the Kurds to contain ISIS.
Americans well understand that it is better to fight the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan and Syria than here, particularly if we can do it with a small footprint and very few casualties.
It’s even good politics!
Ken Abramowitz is the president and founder of SaveTheWest.