SECDEF Ash Carter recently announced that “Afghanistan remains a top priority” while intelligence sources state that that ISIS is attempting to build a recruitment base in Jalalabad, this in addition to the al-Qaeda and Taliban threat that still exists there. How can Afghanistan remain a ‘top priority’ if it has gotten this far out of control? Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan (OEF-A) has been plagued with several variables that continue to undermine any success that might be achieved such as: an ‘enemy-friendly ROE under the guidelines of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) signed in 2014, mismanagement of funds, and counterinsurgency doctrine failure (COIN).
On 06 August 2011, a Chinook helicopter (call sign Extortion 17) with 39 souls on board (military working dog included) was shot down out of the sky by an RPG fired by a Taliban militant. It was the single greatest loss of life ever suffered by the SPECOPS community and incensed Americans grieved for our Fallen. We all sat in utter shock and asked the question, “how could this happen?” The primary reason? The Rules of Engagement (ROE) prescribed for Afghanistan is “enemy-friendly” and with the recent signing of the 2014 BSA, this is the same ROE in place as it was on that fateful day; it severely binds the hands of US forces to effectively do their jobs of fighting terrorism. Our troops are a precious commodity and this ROE amplifies the term “disposable heroes,” just ask the families of those lost on Extortion 17.
Besides the ROE plaguing any noted progress is the blatant mismanagement of funds in the Afghan police trust fund (LOFTA) that the US taxpayer is footing some of the bill for with virtually no oversight whatsoever as to how these funds disappeared. The Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has submitted reports to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) regarding the mismanagement of funds and internal corruption, to which it fell on the deaf ears of Helen Clark, the UNDP administrator. In conjunction to the SIGAR report is the Pentagon’s Inspector General report that parallels the very same mismanagement of funds in LOFTA and when pressing the Afghan Defense Ministry officials as to where these funds disappeared to, they were met with a veiled threat of a response “…that if they continued” the inquiry, “their lives may be in jeopardy.” The 2014 signing of the BSA ensures that 10 more years of funding will continue along with the mismanagement of funds that the US taxpayer will foot most of the bill for.
Mismanaging funds seems an easy fix as compared to the counterinsurgency doctrine failures that continue to cast long, dark shadows over any stability that might happen in Afghanistan. A clear example of this failed COIN doctrine is the emergence of ISIS in Jalalabad coupled with its terrorist ‘partners’ al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US troops and NATO forces are NOT winning over the hearts and minds of most Afghans and it’s clear we never will. What seems to be getting lost is the fact that Afghans live in this environment whilst US/NATO forces do not. Two documentaries by Sebastion Junger, “Restrepo” and “Korengal,” touch briefly on the trials and tribulations of trying to win over Afghans’ hearts and minds. Protecting the Afghan population is first and foremost in the counterinsurgency doctrine but doesn’t make allowances for the psychology of the human element; that element being “bad apples” in the bunch who seek to exploit a weakness for gain. COIN doctrine assumed that Afghans would welcome this with open arms and to the contrary, it failed miserably.
In the 14 year time span that the US has been involved in fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, we’ve seen little progress and now that ISIS is in the mix, it stands to reason that things will get worse before they get better. An ROE that’s enemy-friendly, mismanaging funds, and a failed COIN doctrine add to the problems facing a terrorist-free Afghanistan, but it remains a “top priority” according to SECDEF Ash Carter. If the Department of Defense cannot see the forest through the trees regarding the current situation in Afghanistan, they will continue to put band-aids on a gaping flesh wound and at the expense of our troops’ lives and innocent Afghans.