- - Sunday, April 28, 2019

The war in Afghanistan, which was an expensive losing proposition for the Russians, is proving to be an expensive losing proposition for the United States as well. The American struggle to root out terrorism and establish stability in Afghanistan, paid for by American blood and money, is failing.

The United States pursued Islamic terrorists and their sponsors into the primitive Islamic country which provided the base for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, and 17 years later in America’s longest war it’s difficult even to track what the blood and money has paid for.

Afghan civilians have paid dearly, too. Anti-government forces are responsible for most of the civilian casualties, spiking this year at 21 percent of the dead and wounded, with 53 deaths and 269 wounded. But it’s difficult to obtain reliable figures because the numbers are hidden behind classification stamps. “What we are finding is now [by] almost every indication, [the] metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent,” says John Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, in his latest quarterly report. Governments rarely hide good news.

Mr. Sopko did not say what kind of information previously made public would be blacked out in his new quarterly report, which is mandated by Congress and intended to be a public document. The report is aimed at tracking waste, fraud and abuse, of which there is no doubt an abundance, in U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The quarterly reports were meant to be an important tool for tracking territorial and population control by the insurgent Taliban.

The fault rests in large part with the Afghan government, the special inspector general says. The government in Kabul, which provides some of the information it gathers to the U.S. Defense Department, insists that certain data not be made public. Members of Congress can see the information, such as it may be, in a classified attachment to the quarterly report.

“I don’t think it makes sense,” Mr. Sopko says. “The Afghan people know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it. The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people who are paying for all of this, the American taxpayer.”

President George W. Bush vowed to “win the war against terrorism,” and concentrated on bringing al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to heel in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush demanded that the Taliban “deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land.” Fat chance.

This regime unraveled rapidly after its loss at Mazar-e-Sharif in November 2001 to forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek military leader. The next month, after tracking al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the well-equipped Tora Bora cave complex southeast of Kabul, Afghan militias engaged in a fierce two-week battle with al Qaeda militants. Several hundred fighters died. Osama fled on horseback to Pakistan. Two dozen of his remaining men were captured by Afghan government forces. After the fall of the capital in November 2001, the United Nations invited major Afghan factions, most prominently the Northern Alliance and a group led by the former king, but not the Taliban, to a peace conference in Germany.

Mr. Bush, in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute, envisioned the reconstruction of Afghanistan as something to ensure peace in a region that has known centuries of conflict, much of it inspired by arcane differences in Islamic theology familiar to Sunni and Shiite but rarely to anyone else.

“By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall,” he said, evoking the post-World War II Marshall Plan under which the United States rebuilt ravaged Western Europe. Congress has appropriated $38 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan since 2000. But despite an abundance of good intentions, success is in full retreat.

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