3 Ways the Destructive War On Afghanistan Will Continue Post-2014

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan will continue for at least two more years. And the occupation’s core facets—Special Operations raids and reliance on brutal militias—will continue to wreak havoc on Afghan civilians for the foreseeable future, who are caught between the Taliban and their own government.


Last week, President Obama tried his best to spin the facts to announce that the war in Afghanistan was ending. Speaking at the Rose Garden on May 27, Obama said, “This is how wars end in the 21st century--not through signing ceremonies but through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, security forces who are trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.”  

But the details of the continued occupation that Obama outlined in the speech undermine his assertion. While many American troops will come home in December, 800 will be left to continue to occupy and wage war in Afghanistan at a cost of at least $20 billion. (The continued occupation depends on the agreement of the new Afghan leader; both candidates for president said they support a troop presence.) Many of those troops will be the elite military units--Special Operations Forces--who bust down doors to kill suspected militants. By the end of 2015, 4,900 U.S. soldiers will come home. By the end of 2016, a small military presence will remain at the U.S. Embassy. That overt troop presence doesn’t count the army of civilians the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has brought to the country, an army that will likely stay for many, many years.

Even if the presence of foreigners is vastly reduced, the people of Afghanistan will remain caught in an endless conflict between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. So the war will grind on. And until 2016, the most violent aspects of the U.S. presence will continue. Here are three ways the destructive conflict will continue after the end of this year.

1. Special Operations Targeted Killings

In 2009, President Obama announced a “surge” for the Afghanistan war that would send 33,000 more troops to the country. A major part of the surge was an increase in the use of Special Operations Forces in the country, which are elite units tasked with hunting down suspected militants placed on their “kill lists.”

The reliance on Special Operations Forces will only increase post-2014, given that the overwhelming focus of the U.S. will be on “counter-terrorism” missions. Many of the raids will be carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive unit only answerable to the White House that is part of the larger Special Operations Forces.

As Jeremy Scahill’s book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield documents, the JSOC forces did focus on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. But their kill list expanded to include thousands of mid-level Taliban fighters who only took up arms, as former U.S. official Matthew Hoh told Scahill, because “we’re in their valley.” The list kept on expanding, and under General Stanley McCrystal, who took over the military’s war effort in 2009, the pace of night raids increased to at least 90 a month.

JSOC forces run roughshod over the authority of the Afghan government, and have killed the wrong people, fueling backlash against the American presence. JSOC forces have been accused of war crimes. One operation Scahill documents took place in 2010 in Gardez, Afghanistan. In a raid based on faulty intelligence, JSOC forces burst into the home of the Sharabuddin family, resulting in the deaths of seven unarmed people, including two pregnant women.

2. Training of Afghan Forces

President Obama’s Rose Garden speech outlining the future of the Afghanistan mission indicated that the U.S. will continue to work with Afghan security forces. He said the U.S. troops will be “disrupting threats caused by al Qaeda, supporting Afghan security forces and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed as they stand on their own.”

But the Afghan security and police forces are rife with corruption. They have been infiltrated by the Taliban and other militants, who have killed U.S. troops. They’ve been accused of abusing the human rights of the very people they’re supposed to secure.  

One of the main ways the Afghan security forces abuse human rights is their treatment of prisoners. Last year, the U.S. agreed to hand over the vast majority of detainees to Afghan control. These forces have been accused of torture and ill treatment of detainees. In 2011, the United Nations revealed that jails run by Afghan police and intelligence services beat prisoners and subjected them to electric shocks. In 2013, the U.S. military announced it suspended the transfer of some detainees because they were concerned they would be tortured. But the suspension did not apply to Bagram prison, where the majority of detainees go.

3. Partnering With Militias

The third facet that will likely continue post-2014, as author Anand Gopal wrote in the New York Times recently, is that Special Ops forces, along with the CIA, will continue partnering with Afghan forces outside of the traditional security apparatus.

These militias are a key part of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. They exist solely because of the patronage of the U.S., though they often rely on drug money. In the course of their fight against the Taliban, they operate in ways that run roughshod over the rights of Afghan civilians. One militia leader Gopal writes about is a man known as Azizullah, who ordered his gunmen to drag two farmers under their car to Azizullah’s base.

The U.S. partners with many more such militia heads. “By backing this network,” wrote Gopal, the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes, “the United States is fostering an environment of lawlessness and impunity, exacerbating Afghanistan’s longstanding problems, and creating fertile ground for the Taliban insurgency to survive.”

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