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The Taliban: Undefeated, and possibly undefeatable

The Taliban: Undefeated, and possibly undefeatable
From Al Jazeera - September 5, 2017

Just over a week after US President Donald Trump announced the deployment of additional US troops to Afghanistan, US army servicemen in Alaska were already preparing for deploymentto the region. The Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division is to provide at least 1,000 of the 4,000 additional soldiers announced by the president as part of the continuation of the war.

Even as additional troops get ready to deploy, the United States continues to be without a clear plan as to what it is hoping to accomplish, with defence officials at the Pentagon saying that they are "not prepared to move forward" with the president's plan and that critical planning was "still under way". In the meantime, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid responded to Trump's statement by telling him to take US troops back home because "the Taliban could not be defeated."

It is a smug statement to make, but in the case of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan, it could well be true. In March of this year, the group released a report citing how much territory it controlled. According to the report, 211 of Afghanistan's administrative districts were in the group's control or were contested. The estimate was not overblown; a comparison with media reports and estimates released (pdf)by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) shows that they estimate contested and Taliban-controlled districts at 171, not very far from the Taliban number. Either way, then, nearly 16 years of US occupation and the expenditure of nearly $840.7bn (at the end of budget year 2018), the Taliban remains undefeated and possibly undefeatable.

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The question of why, however, is not one most Americans or even the war planners seem interested in considering. Some acknowledge the reality that military solutions are not the answer, and yet seem willing to lobby for deployments of additional forces, while blaming past presidents (Obama) and intransigent neighbours (Pakistan). The truth is distant from all of these analytical directions and centres on a complex amalgam of the beliefs and proclivities of the US military and the reality of Afghanistan's own normal of constant war.

First among these is the fact that 16 years into the war in Afghanistan, US soldiers find it hard to buy into the moral justifications that they are given for their deployment there. Osama bin Laden is dead and the "war on terror" turned out to be a deadly fiasco. What justifies US military presence in Afghanistan now?

US soldiers were told that they were the "good guys" showing up in Iraq and Afghanistan to build democracies, create institutions and establish the rule of law.

The reality of Afghanistan is much different. The ensuing gap between the lie told to gear soldiers up for war and the war itself seems ever widening and feeding the doubt and disenchantment of soldiers who have yet to deploy. A president like Trump may rhetorically disavow nation building but he has failed to answer the ensuing question: If the war is no longer to build Afghanistan, then what exactly is it for?

TIMELINE: US intervention in Afghanistan 2001 to 2017

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