Happy 15th Birthday to America’s Endless War in Afghanistan
Ghost soldiers prevail and Europe pays to send back asylum seekers as the United State’s longest conflict adds another year
by MATTHEW GAULT
Fifteen years ago today, then-Pres. George W. Bush told the American people that the United States was going to war with the Taliban in Afghanistan. “We did not ask for this mission,” Bush told us. “But we will fulfill it.”
After 15 years, 2,385 dead U.S. soldiers, more than 20,000 wounded and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, the mission is unfulfilled. The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest and it seems it may never end.
The Pentagon maintains just under 10,000 troops in the country. Those soldiers were supposed to come home in 2017 but now it looks as if American troops will be a permanent fixture of the Afghan landscape.
The Afghan National Army is a huge part of the problem. Funding Kabul’s military is a long con that’s cost America $68 billion. The idea was for coalition forces to build up, train and support the ANA until it could get on its feet and defend Afghanistan on its own. But there’s been no oversight and no accountability.
The U.S. dumps money into the ANA without assurances that its cash goes to soldiers or training. The Afghan Ministry of Interior skims money off the top, local commanders over-report their troop numbers to get bigger salaries, and many ANA soldiers only get paid after a complicated system of intermediaries pocket upwards of half their pay.
In a recent letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, John Sopko — the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — asked for information about the ANA’s money issues and called out the Pentagon for not taking care of the problem.
During the summer, Kabul claimed the ANA had 319,925 soldiers. But according to an unnamed Afghan official the Associated Press interviewed in January, “the best internal estimates put the number at around 120,000, less than a third of what’s needed to secure the country.”
It gets worse. “Afghan government officials have raised concerns about ‘ghost’ ANDSF personnel in Helmand province,” Sopko wrote in his letter to Carter. “The new police chief of Helmand province has been quoted as stating that of the approximately 26,000 ANDSF personnel assigned to the province … 40 to 50 percent of the force did not exist physically when we asked for help during operations.”
“Salaries of the ghost soldiers have been received during the past eight months and the money has gone to personal accounts,” the police chief explained. The Pentagon’s response to SIGAR’s questions was a long-winded version of “we’re working on it.”
In another bizarre bit of Afghan army news, dozens of Afghan troops training in the United States have gone AWOL. Since 2007, 2,200 Afghan soldiers have come to America to train. The idea is that the troops would get training from the Pentagon’s elite soldiers, then return home to share that knowledge with their peers.
But they’re not all going home. Forty-four of the visiting soldiers have fled training and disappeared over the past two years. The speculation is that these men want to try for better lives in America. They don’t want to go back and fight.
It’s hard to blame them. Right now, the Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than it has since the U.S invasion began. Kunduz is a war zone, Taliban bombs have ripped Kabul apart and Helmand wavers under sustained assault.
Along with the disappearing ANA troops, hundreds of thousands of people have fled Afghanistan over the past 15 years. Many sought better lives in the West only to find out the West didn’t want them. Worse, the European Union and Kabul just worked out deal to deport thousands back home to the war zone in exchange for $4 billion in aid over the next few years.
Afghanistan’s mercenary government officials hoover up cash like it’s going out of style. Corruption, graft and lack of oversight burn through billions in aid money that’s poured into the country from all across the globe.
But Kabul can always use more, and it looks as if it leveraged Europe’s growing intolerance of migrants and refugees to earn a few extra billion dollars. The E.U. has denied the aid was contingent upon Kabul accepting the return of the refugees, but a leaked internal memo tells a different story.
“The State Building Contract for EUR 200 million in preparation is intended to be made migration sensitive,” the memo read.
“Member States are aware of the worsening security situation and threats to which people are exposed. Despite this, more than 80,000 persons could potentially need to be returned in the near future.”
The E.U. and Kabul signed the agreement on Oct. 4. Afghanistan will take back tens of thousands of its fleeing people and billions of dollars in aid. They call it the Joint Way Forward.
No word yet on when the war in Afghanistan will end or what kind of lives the tens of thousands who fled the country will return to.
Happy Birthday, Forever War.