When America forgets about those who are dying in Afghanistan

When America forgets about those who are dying in Afghanistan
© Getty Images

While most of America has been fixated on the Kavanaugh accusations and the Senate’s embarrassing attempt to handle those, the eighth U.S. service member of 2018 was killed in America’s longest war on Thursday. You likely didn’t hear about it in the news unless you saw a defense reporter tweet about it or you know a veteran who mentioned it. A single U.S. death in Afghanistan no longer draws media attention because Americans have become apathetic to the never-ending conflict, which has allowed our elected representatives to become indifferent to any sort of sustainable solution or realistic withdrawal.

This year the Afghan war is on track to cost the taxpayer $45 billion. The Taliban holds more territory today than they have since the post-9/11 invasion in 2001, and they show no indication of real interest in a sustainable peace agreement despite the United States’s high hopes for talks. The Taliban don’t want peace, nor do they want to share territory with the Afghan government. They want to rule Afghanistan the way they did prior to 9/11 and the Oct. 7, 2001, invasion.  

ADVERTISEMENT

The “new” Afghan strategy under the Trump administration is more of a yo-yo strategy, one we’ve seen in previous administrations that allows the amount of territory owned by the Taliban to be determined by the size of U.S. forces in the country. The U.S. essentially is settling for ownership — through the Afghan government — of the prominent cities, the capital, Kabul, and surrounding areas. But the glaring, systemic problem that exists in Afghanistan, regardless of strategy, is that the U.S.-created Afghan government is is not self-sufficient or sustainable and is unable to lead and defend its nation without the U.S. military.  

Despite the administration’s new commitment to winning in Afghanistan, after 17 years, Americans no longer are invested in the war. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 42 percent of Americans don’t know we are still fighting in Afghanistan, or aren’t sure if we are. When the American people no longer make it a priority to hold their elected representatives responsible for spending more than $1 trillion on a never-ending war, it allows the failed status quo to remain and to be set aside for another day, or for another politician to take charge.

No one wants to talk “exit strategy.” No one wants to talk about adjusting the failed strategy. No one wants to call this what it has become: our generation’s Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the draft forced Americans to pay attention. Today, less than 1 percent of the population is serving at any given time, making the burden of war fall on such a small number of citizens that the majority of Americans become completely disconnected from the realities of it. While this generation’s military is grateful to have the support of the American people, unlike during the Vietnam War, it falls short when Americans no longer are actively engaged in the wars that are being fought.

I recently spoke with a national security expert at a prominent think tank in Washington and brought up the fact that no one appears focused on a realistic exit strategy or, at least, a drastic shift in strategy that allows the military to get back on track with some significant gains. He responded with a chuckle. “Leaving Afghanistan? That’s got to be the least popular opinion in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It doesn’t fit anyone’s agenda here. To the rest of America it’s a popular opinion, but not here.” And he’s 100 percent right. Washington’s priorities do not include realistically improving Afghanistan or leaving — why would they? Their constituents no longer are demanding results or asking the hard questions about Afghanistan at town halls back in their districts. It has been all but forgotten.

While developing an effective exit strategy is likely as complicated as trying to win the war, because of all the contributing factors such as Pakistan, India, ISIS, al Qaeda, Russia and China, our elected leadership in Washington must be transparent and communicate what it is that we actually are doing there. They owe it to the taxpayers, and to those volunteering to serve our country and fight its wars. 

Gen. John Nicholson Jr., the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan until last month, said in his farewell speech that “it is time for this war in Afghanistan to end.” I couldn't agree more. We’ve given politicians more than enough time, and made enough excuses for political and fiscal mismanagement — as well as having lost priceless American lives.

RIP to the American who was killed Thursday in Afghanistan, while the rest of America is arguing about a high school party that reportedly happened more than 30 years ago.

Amber Smith is the former deputy assistant to the secretary of Defense (Outreach) and best-selling author of “Danger Close” (Atria Books, 2016). She is a combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.