We have been at war for a long time. It’s likely that this article is preaching to the choir, as many of SOFREP’s readers were intimately involved in the war themselves, or at least know many people who were. However, even in many veteran circles, interest in news regarding Afghanistan has begun to wane. An attack on a compound here or a brash statement from the Taliban there — they rarely garner many views and are buried under the political drama of the day. After all, the same sounding news from the same country has been pumped across the internet for the last 17 years (yep, we’re coming up on 17).
As many of you are acutely aware, we still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan, engaged in a war that is decidedly not the same one it was 17 years ago. Elements change. The entire political, military and cultural landscape has changed, and to insinuate that it’s the same old thing as before is reductive and inaccurate.
A lot of people only pay attention to the occasional interesting expert, but many experts get a feel for what’s going on in Afghanistan, then they leave, and they don’t keep up with the continuous, rapid changes in the war. When they offer their insights or advice, it could be insights that’s based on knowledge from years ago, on top of a few headline-level updates. That’s not to say don’t listen to the experts — it’s just that those occasional articles shouldn’t be all that is read.
A suicide bombing occurring just after a fatwa forbade suicide bombings, for example, is significantly different and more impactful to the future of the country than a suicide bombing in a combat scenario against Afghan soldiers in a remote base near the border of Pakistan (just as heartbreaking, but different political implications). You hear a lot of arguments with broad, catchy titles that lump dozens of such events into 400 or 500 words — like the ones that say the war will continue on forever, or that the Americans are losing, or how one man’s plan is going to change everything — again, these headlines are reductive and usually attempt to generalize the situation far past all its nuances.
If you were to keep up with the mass amounts of published articles, the statements from the United States, the Afghan government, the Taliban and ISIS-K, reports from human rights organizations and aid groups, you would still come up short. But you would be miles and miles ahead of the average person, and in many cases ahead of some self-proclaimed “experts.”
For example (and as to my point: this is not the whole story), the Afghan government’s newly developing relationship with the Taliban. Of course, to the man on the ground in the firefight, the alleged peace talks of politicians don’t mean a whole lot at that moment. However, for observers like ourselves to disregard these developments, like the recent truce between the Taliban and the Afghan government, is to quite obviously ignore driving factors in a war we seem to have so many opinions about.
The temporary ceasefire agreement over Eid al-Fitr was significant. It could be a path toward the plan that Secretary of Defense Mattis alluded to earlier in the year — the Afghan government might make peace with the Taliban enabling the U.S. to pull out (this is a generalization, again, and there are many other factors at play when it comes to the U.S. actually leaving entirely). The U.S. and the Taliban don’t need to be on peaceful terms, but if we can encourage the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a “reconciliation,” as Mattis put it, then the Taliban may allow themselves subservience to the Afghan government. That wouldn’t be pretty, but it would be possible.
This means Sharia law does not get to reign over the entire country, which would be a huge victory for both the Afghan people and western interests in the nation. Then education and access to the internet (and foreign culture and beliefs) would likely deteriorate the Taliban’s grip on its own people, as education of this sort often slowly disintegrates people’s’ belief in Sharia law over time.
However, the violence has resumed so any chance of an easy answer (which most didn’t expect anyway) have gone out the window. Still, the temporary ceasefire was new and significant, and it’s possible that it is indicative of shifting relations between the warring powers in Afghanistan.
This is one of a few possibilities in the future strategy of the U.S., as well as the Afghan government and the Taliban. Other players will make all of this much more complex and difficult, and the two that immediately come to mind is the presence of ISIS and the systemic corruption throughout the Afghan government, not to mention the influence that Pakistan has on the war. There may be no chance of peace or reconciliation between Afghanistan and the Taliban, and we may find ourselves on a new path entirely very soon. Like I said, this war changes every day.
If you have no idea what I was just talking about, then you are not aware of major events happening in a war which is claiming the lives of our own troops. I have been guilty of waning interest more times than I would like to admit — it’s fine, just get educated.
I’m not asking readers to develop one opinion regarding the war over another. I’m asking them to click on the headlines and read the articles, and not just from SOFREP. Read the statements from the Taliban and the Afghan government. If you’re on twitter, follow Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Read opinions from experts, especially the ones who were there the most recently and were actually involved in the war itself. Some of these things will be propaganda, some will be factual tellings of events, and some will be bloated opinions based on political or personal agendas. However, the more information you arm yourself with, the more the truth will begin to reveal itself. The answers are just simply not going to be contained in one man’s opinion on the subject, certainly not mine.
There’s no shortcut: read the headlines that look exactly like the headlines from last week. Read about the small attacks on outposts, figure out the geography. Understand the culture of the people we are fighting, their religious ideas and how they contrast with the Afghan government and many of the Afghan people. This is a war our country is currently involved in, and our own are continuing to give their lives on the battlefield. We all know that, and yet our interest wanes over time.
I think we all need healthy reminders that information is power. I know I do.
Featured image: A Pakistani soldier overlooking the mountains near his patrol base; he stands near the Pakistan-Afghan border. The war in Afghanistan cannot be separated from the nuances and details of Pakistan, and a full understanding requires insight into the border itself, the relations between the countries, their rocky history, the tribes in the area, and Pakistani politics. | AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus