Republican and Democrat legislators alike were left shaking their heads in disbelief at President Donald Trump’s plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this week, as anger grew over his lack of strategy to end the 16-year conflict.
“We are so frustrated,” Walter Jones, a Republican House Representative from North Carolina tells Newsweek. “We are sitting right here, spending billions up to trillions of dollars, we have nothing to show for it.”
Jones—together with his Democrat colleague, Representative John Garamendi, from Northern California—is pushing a bipartisan bill that proposes to defund the war to allow Congress to debate the future of the conflict.
But the Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan, is blocking it, they say.
The war in Afghanistan, launched in 2001 by George W. Bush after 9/11, when the country was providing sancutary to Osama bin Laden, has cost upward of $1 trillion and resulted in the deaths of 2,403 U.S. servicemen and women. More than 16 years later, most of the country remains a war zone, and the Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the American invasion began.
Writing in a letter to President Trump in July, Jones said, “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires! We do not want a tombstone to read ‘United States of America.’” He never got a response.
As General Chuck Krulak, 31st Commandant of Marines Corps, wrote to Jones in an email this year: “NO ONE has ever conquered Afghanistan…and many have tried. We will join the list of Nations that have tried and failed.”
Russia invaded in 1979 to support the then Afghan Communist government, and left, defeated, ten years later, after a bitter war with Islamist militias known as the mujahadeen. It is the remnants of those groups that went on to form the Taliban.
On Monday, Trump said he shares “the American people’s frustration” that the war has not been won. “The American people are weary of war without victory,” he said.
But “conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on,” Trump said. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”
The Pentagon has asked for Trump’s approval of a nearly 4,000-troop increase as part of the strategy.
Trump’s plan, says Garamendi, is “the true definition of insanity,” because it is continuing “to do what hasn’t worked.”
He said Trump is pursuing the same failed policy the U.S. has been chasing for the past 16 years. “He did not enunciate any goal as to why we were there, and certainly never even came close to a strategy about how that goal could be achieved,” Garamendi says.
“This now is Donald Trump’s war. He can’t blame Obama for it, he can’t blame Bush for it. When Americans start dying, it’s Donald Trump’s war.”
Eleven service members have died in combat so far this year.
In 2008, then President George W. Bush sent a surge of 8,000 combat and support troops to Afghanistan. A year later, President Barack Obama ordered a troop surge of 33,000 troops. They withdrew in 2011, the same year Canada pulled all its troops out. Neither troop surge, like the one Trump is proposing, served to finally end the war or bring it even close to being won.
Trump himself has voiced his opposition to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, tweeting in 2013: “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.”
Speaking Tuesday, he said that his gut instinct is to leave but that he’s worried about Afghanistan becoming a haven for terrorists, as Iraq was in 2013 during the rise of the Islamic State.
“They say the goal is to defeat the Taliban. Some say the goal is to prevent it to becoming a terror haven. OK. Then what is the strategy to achieve that?” says Garamendi.
Both Garamendi and Jones serve on the House Committee on Armed Services, and both say that Republicans in the House—especially Speaker Paul Ryan—are blocking Congress’s efforts to even have a debate about whether Trump’s strategy is any good.
The war, Jones and Garamendi said, is becoming even murkier now. Russia is reaching out to support the Taliban and maybe even supply the militant group—which used to rule the country—with weapons. Not only that, but ISIS and a handful of other terrorist groups are operating there as well.
The Taliban warned Trump Tuesday that he is “wasting” American soldiers’ lives and that Afghanistan will become a “graveyard” for the U.S.
Yet since 2001, Congress hasn’t spent more than 20 minutes at a time debating the war in Afghanistan, Jones and Garamendi say.
Their bill, however, would open up an entire debate about the War on Terror, which stretches from Iraq and Syria to Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. That’s because the military authorization for all those conflicts is based on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which gave the go-ahead for the war in Afghanistan.
“This, again, is why we are so frustrated,” says Jones, and “why we have put this bill in to force a debate. This is an across-the-world situation.”