Taliban, Russia Want U.S. to Withdraw From Afghanistan

The Taliban released an open letter urging President Trump to end the war in Afghanistan at the same time Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov suggested that if the U.S. is "unable to do anything serious" in Afghanistan, it should leave.

Oh, boy.

Neither Kabulov nor the un-identified Taliban author are wrong in principle—16 years of war in Afghanistan has produced almost nothing. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to eliminate one of the few safe havens for terrorists in the world. Safe havens have proliferated since then.

But their statements could have the opposite effect, toughening the resolve of forces within the Trump administration who want to extend the Afghan war.

"Despite the fact that the former administration officials created a large coalition to attack our country, your 16 year military presence in Afghanistan has resulted in Afghanistan becoming the most unstable country security wise, the most corrupt administrative wise and the poorest country economically," the Taliban letter reads.

Most recently, the terror group ISIS entered Afghanistan—a group that did not exist in 2001 and has benefited from U.S.-induced instability in Iraq to metastasize into what it is today. Trump told reporters last month that ISIS was "falling fast" in Afghanistan—he has been relatively skeptical of continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan despite surrounding himself largely with military advisors committed to continuing the conflict.

Kabulov insisted Afghanistan has become a "global incubator of international terrorism." It's an odd claim for a country embroiled in Syria, a veritable melting pot of terror groups, and reportedly opposed to the U.S. leaving the Afghanistan war to private contractors.

The U.S. should leave Afghanistan. As I noted last week, neither privatizing nor prosecuting the war in some other way better articulates precisely why the U.S. is in Afghanistan in the first place. This has been missing almost from the beginning. The core of Al-Qaeda was disposed of relatively quickly and the mastermind of 9/11 (the raison d'etre for the Afghanistan war) was killed in 2011 in Pakistan.

Any honest effort to define U.S. security goals in Afghanistan would reveal none worth continuing the war. If Afghan government agencies or mineral companies or anyone else require security, they are free to contract with private companies.

The Taliban and Russian comments raise the question of whether they would actually prefer to see the U.S. continue to waste blood and treasure in Afghanistan. The U.S. presence there is a powerful recruitment tool for the Taliban while weakening the U.S. position as a global power.

Vladimir Putin is not so politically tone-deaf to think his envoy's opinion that the U.S. has lost in Afghanistan will benefit opponents of the war in the Trump administration. Trump may oppose the war, but he's been very sensitive about being seen as a Russian puppet. This sensitivity has contributed to a string of stupid mistakes, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's alleged Russia connections.

It's not hard to imagine Trump doubling down in Afghanistan to demonstrate he isn't following Russia's lead. And that would be a shame.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Publicly, President Carter condemned the invasion and called on the Soviet Union to withdraw. Privately, Carter and his advisors were excited about the prospect of a protracted Soviet war in Afghanistan weakening the USSR. Afghanistan, after all, was the graveyard of empires.

Afghanistan may not be a "Soviet Vietnam" on its own, Zbigniew Brzerzinski, Carter's national security advisor, wrote in a memo, but U.S. support for rebel groups could get it there. Those rebel groups, the mujahedeen, eventually became the Taliban as well as parts of Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the two American troops most recently killed in Afghanistan.