Eleven years of the conflict in Afghanistan have now reached a landmark of 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed. With an additional 1,190 coalition troops killed there, the total number is now well above 3,000 soldiers.
The United Kingdom has suffered the second-largest number of deaths with 433, while Canada has lost 158 soldiers.
Add to that the estimated 20,000 civilians that have been killed in the conflict and just under 18,000 U.S. wounded warriors, and it is not hard to tell that the war has taken an enormous toll.
The U.S. and NATO plan to withdraw their troops by the end of 2014, while Australia, France and Canada will depart next year. The prerequisite for withdrawal was to be the training of an effective Afghan Security Force.
Whether or not Afghans will be able to secure their own country is disputable. For example, the incidents of “green on blue” attacks have increased, resulting in 53 NATO deaths so far this year.
The latest incident occurred east of Kabul on Saturday, when another member of the international stabilization force was killed by an Afghan Security Forces member. A U.S. official said the soldier was an American. The attack also killed a civilian contractor.
Last week, after a series of attacks, including an attack on Camp Bastion/Leatherneck that killed two UK soldiers and destroyed six harrier aircraft and damaged two others, ISAF suspended all operations with the Afghan Security Forces. Of course, training can't continue without joint operations. The suspension was just lifted, and ISAF said that troops were taking special precautions.
Regardless of precautions, it is hard to operate on a battlefield or in a training environment if you need to constantly look over your shoulder. The Taliban have been successful in infiltrating Afghan Security Forces, and NATO troops have been the victims of these infiltrations.
Despite the NATO decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, there will still be a decade-long NATO commitment at the cost of $4.2 billion, half of which is funded by the U.S. The Strategic Planning Agreement signed by President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai lays out the cooperation. Whether or not it’s worth the paper it's written on is another question.
While most would like to believe that Afghan Security Forces can provide security in Afghanistan, the reality seems to point in a different direction. Afghans will show their loyalties to those that will provide them protection. In most cases, that will be the local warlords or the Taliban. Without an effective security force, the reach of the Kabul government is not very far.
The Taliban will want a big piece of the pie, and there have been some informal negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S., although very low key. Karzai, who has a lot at stake, has been more engaged.
What has been accomplished in eleven years? What else can be done in the next year or so? If that can't be answered showing achievements, then what can be accomplished in the next few months?
If NATO is spinning its wheels and going nowhere fast, then why prolong the misery?
NATO leaders should put their ego aside. Either finish the job, which would take a few more decades, or get our troops home now.
Since there is no longer an appetite for this war or for nation-building, let's get out before any more troops or civilians are killed on account of this war. Let the cards fall where they may.