Afghanistan Never Seems to Get Better

I guess there’s a theory that things may have gone better in Afghanistan if the coalition of troops that invaded the country in 2001 hadn’t become distracted and diluted by the decision to invade Iraq. We’ll never really know if that’s true. What’s more conclusive is that things are just way worse there than even most pessimists expected. Today, we got a fresh reminder of that:

KABUL — Gunmen disguised as doctors and medics drove an ambulance into Kabul’s main military hospital Wednesday morning, then opened fire on patients and staff members and battled Afghan security forces for hours. At least 30 people, most of them civilians, were killed and twice as many wounded, officials said.

The audacious midmorning attack, the deadliest in the Afghan capital in months, was claimed by the Islamic State extremist militia. It drew immediate condemnation from foreign governments and humanitarian groups, and was denounced as an “atrocity” by the U.N. mission here because it targeted a medical facility.

“This attack marks an abhorrent new low. Dressing in disguise to shoot at the sick and wounded is a cowardly, wicked act,” Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan ambassador in Washington, said in a statement. “These are forces of evil the world must work together to defeat.”

It also highlighted the threat of terrorist violence that continues to plague even the most secure areas of the Afghan capital, as well as other regions, after 16 years of conflict with Taliban insurgents and other armed groups that has cost tens of thousands of lives and involved more than 100,000 American troops at its peak.

There was a time prior to the Soviet invasion when Afghanistan was a trendy place to visit and it enjoyed the blessings of a civil society. I wish it could get back to that, but it seems as far off today as ever.

As the Trump administration weighs its policy options here, experts have warned that 2017 is likely to be as grueling and deadly as 2016, which had a record number of civilian casualties and left Taliban forces in control of more than one-third of the country. The increasing threat from the Islamic State, known here as Daesh, is especially worrisome.

“We are on the front lines of a fight that can affect the world, and we can’t let Afghanistan become a global terrorist center,” Siddiq Siddiqi, the chief spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, said this week. “We have made a lot of sacrifices, but we need more help, especially in counterterrorism.”

We went in there sixteen years ago to put an end to Afghanistan being “a global terrorist center,” but it doesn’t look like we’ve succeeded in that regard.

Maybe the threat is somehow minimized and contained by our continuing efforts but you’d have a hard sell to convince me that my son should put his life on the line serving there. And I think that’s pretty decent test for the president to ask himself as he contemplates what his policy options are. Whatever he decides, will he be willing to look bereaved parents in the eye when their children come home in caskets?

If not, maybe it’s time to cut our losses and manage the risk in other ways.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.