Aug. 19 marked a century since Afghanistan gained its independence from Great Britain.
But to most Afghans, it probably didn’t feel much like Independence Day. The struggling nation has been held hostage to ceaseless, senseless violence since at least the time of the Soviet invasion in 1979.
Earlier this month, for instance, a suicide bomber destroyed one of Afghanistan’s few signs of normal life — a wedding — in an attack that killed at least 80 and wounded 200. Overall, a week’s carnage claimed 25 pro-government forces and 103 Afghan civilians, with many more wounded in the besieged nation’s numerous attacks.
And of course it’s not just Afghans who are targeted: Last week, two U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed in a firefight in Northern Afghanistan. So far this year 14 U.S. service members have been killed.
Every individual casualty is a tragedy. The collective carnage is a catastrophe in a year in which Afghanistan became more lethal than even Syria, according to an analysis in the Economist.
The Taliban, the extremist element behind much of the country’s violence, didn’t claim “credit” for the wedding attack. Instead, it was ISIS, the nihilist terrorist group that’s surging in Afghanistan — and rapidly reconstituting in Iraq and Syria.
That’s among the conclusions of an Inspectors General report to Congress, which included the assessment that the “partial drawdown of U.S. troops decreases resources and support to U.S.-backed Syrian forces.”
Some in Congress, the Pentagon and beyond are concerned over a similar dynamic occurring in Afghanistan, with the Trump administration deep into negotiations with the Taliban about a deal that would result in a significant drawdown of roughly 14,000 U.S. troops remaining in the country.
A key requirement reportedly will be the Taliban renouncing al-Qaida, which it sheltered before the group’s 9/11 attacks. But as the wedding bombing indicates, in Afghanistan ISIS is a bigger threat than the mostly vanquished al-Qaida.
And the Taliban, which is an even more significant existential threat to Afghanistan, won’t even engage in peace talks with the Afghan central government.
While war-weary Americans justifiably want their own independence day from the forever wars in the Mideast, administration officials and Congress should bear in mind that an expedient deal could exacerbate the chaos and squander the sacrifices of those who served to secure a better future for Afghanistan — and the United States.