The failure of the US’ longest and most frustrating war, now in its 16th year, has forced Kabul to mull training and arming 20,000 civilians to fight the Taliban, with the prospects of victory more tenuous today than at any point since the US military invasion in 2001.

The new fighters would come under the command of the Afghan army which is already demoralised by killings and desertions while struggling to beat back the insurgents. The proposed force will be recruited from the locals and used to fill the gaps, as per Afghan officials. 

The proposal was inevitable as the Taliban have been gaining ground and Islamic State is expanding its footprint; and as of February this year, approximately 60 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under the government’s control, as per SIGAR, the US watchdog agency.

Also, recently the Afghan government has ordered to nearly double the country’s elite fighting force from 17,000 showing that the victory in the US war against Afghan Taliban is not yet in sight in the country that is faced with violence at record levels, a dysfunctional government plagued by corruption, and a police and army riddled with illiteracy and dependent on coalition support despite billions of dollars being poured into creating an Afghan army and police force capable of fighting the insurgents on their own.

The notion of the US and its 39-member coalition’s helplessness in the Afghan war before the Taliban and other militants is also strengthened by various American officials’ statements on the simmering issue. There have been 3,407 coalition deaths in Afghanistan as of 1 October 2015 in the on-going coalition operations since 2001. The total casualties also omit the 62 Spanish soldiers who died while returning from Afghanistan when their plane crashed in Turkey.

During the first five years of the war, the vast majority of coalition deaths were American, but between 2006 and 2011, a significant proportion were amongst other nations, particularly the United Kingdom and Canada which have been assigned responsibility for the flashpoint provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, respectively. 

A total of 70 Western coalition soldiers involved in the execution of Operation Enduring Freedom were killed in 2002; 58 in 2003; 60 in 2004; 131 in 2005; 191 in 2006; 232 in 2007; 295 in 2008; 521 in 2009; 711 in 2010; 566 in 2011; 402 in 2012; 161 in 2013; 55 in 2014; 22 in 2015; 14 in 2016 and 11 in 2017 with total fatalities of 2,403 while most of the deceased were American soldiers.

In the execution of Operation Enduring Freedom, as many as 12 US troops were killed in 2001; 49 in 2002; 48 in 2003; 52 in 2004; 99 in 2005; 98 in 2006; 117 in 2007; 155 in 2008; 317 in 2009; 499 in 2010; 418 in 2011; 310 in 2012; 127 in 2013; 55 in 2014; 22 in 2015; 14 in 2016; and 11 in 2017 so far with a total of 2403 casualties.

In 2009, there were 7,228 improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Afghanistan, a 120% increase over 2008, and a record for the war. Of the 512 foreign soldiers killed in 2009, 448 were killed in action. 280 of those were killed by IEDs. In 2010, IED attacks in Afghanistan wounded 3,366 U.S. soldiers, which is nearly 60% of the total IED-wounded since the start of the war. Of the 711 foreign soldiers killed in 2010, 630 were killed in action. 368 of those were killed by IEDs, which is around 36% of the total IED-killed since the start of the war to date. The insurgents planted 14,661 IEDs in 2010, a 62% increase over the previous year.

In the wake of such a critical and disastrous situation, U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan John “Mick” Nicholson Jr., who is the 12th U.S. commander since the war began, in his recent Senate testimony, called for several thousand more U.S. troops to break the “stalemate”. He suggested that those troops would serve mainly as advisers and trainers to Afghan forces, facilitating what he labelled “hold-fight-disrupt” operations.

Nicholson was of the view that Afghanistan is a “petri dish” in which terrorist “strands” are “converging” to create a “stalemate” that is weakening America’s “enduring CT platform,” which could lead to terrorist attacks on the “homeland.”  

General Nicholson also mentioned in his testimony that Afghanistan is a different kind of war, a fourth-generation war fought in a “grey zone”; a mish-mash of low-intensity and asymmetric conflicts, involving non-state actors, worsened by the meddling of foreign powers like Pakistan, Iran, and Russia.

Likewise, Captain Waddell, who is a former infantry officer and was previously stationed in Sangin, Afghanistan, with 3d Bn, 7th Marines, in 2010 and 2011, recently wrote a scathing editorial on a Marine Corp Gazette saying, “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He also outlined some of very serious problems with the US Marine Corp.

In the same way, responding to the US president’s astonishment in a recent meeting held at Pentagon when he pointed to maps showing the Taliban gaining ground, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S. is losing because it doesn’t have the strategy it needs.” The Pentagon all but concedes that there just aren’t any good ideas anymore on how to escape from Afghanistan with anything resembling a win.

In an interview with PBS News, former CIA Director David Petraeus, who also oversaw U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq during his military career, admitted that the 16-year war in Afghanistan is not going to end any time soon. “This is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years. We’re not going to take a hill, plant a flag and go home to a victory parade,” he said. 

Also President Donald Trump has termed the conflict “a complete and total disaster” and encouraged the US to “get out of Afghanistan. We’ve wasted billions and billions of dollars and more importantly thousands of thousands of lives.” He further said, “Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there.” Thus, Washington should “get out of Afghanistan.” In 2015, he declared “We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn’t know what the hell they were doing.” He asked, “At some point, are they going to be there for the next 200 years.”

In the longest and most discouraging war, the US has faced terrifying failures despite the spending of over $841 billion on the conflict and casualties of thousands of troops and still there is no end in sight.