In a significant statement to the media in Manila on Monday, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke about the Trump administration’s on-going policy review on Afghanistan, hinting strongly that the wind could be blowing in favour of ending the 16-year old war. Tillerson said:
- We’ve had now three sessions within the National Security Council exploring a full range of options. And when I say a full range of options, I mean the entire landscape… I think this is reflective of the deliberations that we want to undertake. The President is asking, I think, some very, very pointed questions, and they are good questions. They were the right questions that he should be asking, and perhaps these are questions that no one’s been willing to raise in the past.
- And so with his – with the questions that he’s asked us, we want to give him good, thorough answers and good, thorough analysis to go with that, a very clear-eyed view, a very realistic view of what the future is likely to look like.
- And I think we want to take the time to do the analysis, a fully integrated analysis from the Intel Community to the military planners to the diplomatic channels as to how does this all play out and where does this go. It’s one thing to say we’re just going to keep fighting because we’re – there is no other option. There are always other options.
- And so that’s what the President has asked us to fully explore, and I think the fact that we’re taking our time to try to come to a solution that is realistic, is – takes a clear view of what we’re dealing with on the ground, and being very honest with ourselves about expectations of the future, I think that is – that serves the American people’s interest well. This is a very, very – as you know, a tough area, 16 years, 17 years we’ve been at it now. To just say we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, the President is not willing to accept that, and so he is asking some tough questions, and the Security Council is working diligently to give him the best answers we can.
Tillerson’s statement does suggest that President Trump is dissatisfied with the hackneyed discourse, which is narrowly focused on the US troop level. However, considering that almost all conceivable strategies have been advocated and tried out in the Afghan war already by the previous administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama – ranging from national-building to surge to COIN to drawdown of troops – Trump seems to be asking the basic questions.
US soldiers have lunch at the shopping area of the Kandahar military base, south Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug 2, 2006. (AP)
Trump’s “tough questions” appear to be dealing with specifics (not generalities), such as: How long does the US military stay in Afghanistan? Can the US win this war? How can US fight a war with such a hopelessly decrepit local government as its ally? What about the civil side of the politics and governance? Isn’t the war a big drain on resources – in $45-50 billion per year? Is there even a credible enough chance to come out of this war with some kind of a settlement in-state? Is there a credible probability of a durable, stable outcome that justifies the cost of the war? So, in the final analysis, is it worth staying?
A US supervisor from the DynCorp security contractor watches Afghan forces cut opium poppies on April 3, 2006 near Lashkar Gah in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan. Photo John Moore/Getty Images
Now, this will put the Pentagon and the CIA in right royal fix. One thing I can say with absolute certainty about militaries and spy agencies the world over is that they are good at passing the buck. They are averse to taking responsibility for defeat. Of course, Trump is a clever fox. Therefore, is he preparing the ground to outsource the Afghan war to military contractors, an idea that has powerful supporters in the White House – in son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Steve Bannon?
Source: USCENTCOM, Aug. 2017
The Financial Times carried a riveting report on Monday about a document in its possession dated August 2017. It says that Erik Prince, the merchant of death in Iraq, has handed over the said document to the White House detailing how at a far cheaper cost of $10 billion annually, his private military forces could replace the US military and fight the Afghan war to a finish.
Erik Prince once told Breitbart News that the US ought to adopt the methods of the East India Company in India by outsourcing the war to mercenaries who’d get embedded in the Afghan army and actually live and fight alongside the Afghan soldiers. He has recommended that Trump should appoint a “viceroy” who’d take overall charge of US interests – war, mercantilist agenda, funding, keeping the natives in flock and so on. Prince’s 2-year plan envisages that the mercenaries will be paid $500-$600 per day and will be recruited from the US, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, South Africa and Australia. (Fortunately, India has not been mentioned.)
Trump reportedly deputed CIA chief Mike Pompeo to visit Afghanistan last week to assess the US strategy and to consider how Prince’s proposal might fit into it. Prince, an ex-SEAL himself, is an influential figure. His sister (billionaire businesswoman Betsy DeVos) is the Education Secretary in Trump’s cabinet.
Last stand of the 44th at Gandamak, painted by William Barnes Wollen. During the first Anglo-Afghan War, the 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot was surrounded on a rocky hill near Gandamak by Ghilji fighters on 13 January 1842. The Afghans announced that a surrender could be arranged but the men of the 44th did not trust them and, making a last stand against the Ghilji forces, were massacred by them. This was one of the most legendary episodes of the crushing British defeat in Afghanistan, the “graveyard of Empires”[Tlaxcala’s Note]