James Carafano: Afghanistan attack a moment to take stock of what's been achieved — and the work still needed

This weekend saw a tragic exchange of fire between U.S. and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. Last reports counted two Americans dead and six wounded. Afghan forces also took casualties.

We still don’t know the details of why and how the incident occurred, but it appears to be a “friendly fire” incident, what troops call a “green on blue” engagement.

A few years ago, such incidents were almost endemic, many engineered by the Taliban to sow distrust between allies and foster the impression that the war was nothing but a quagmire. 

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Thankfully, green-on-blue casualties have become increasingly rare: in part because of better security and vetting practices by U.S. and Afghan operational forces; in part because Afghan military forces have become more professional; and in part because the U.S. isn’t fighting the war anymore.

U.S military activities are now largely confined to advising and supporting Afghan forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. With American troops far less likely to be put in harm’s way, our casualties have diminished greatly.

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Our military footprint is Afghanistan is also smaller. After a temporary build-up, the U.S now has fewer than 9,000 troops in the country — about the same number that were there when President Trump came into office. 

All of this is to put this weekend’s undeniably tragic news in perspective. When American troops have a bad day, we must remember what they have accomplished and what their continued presence there will achieve. Let’s take stock. 

The Taliban would not be negotiating with the U.S. if they thought they could win on the battlefield. They cannot. They are no closer to winning than they were three years ago. 

The Afghan people may be tired of war, but they have no desire to see the Taliban return. Nor do they wish to see their country once more become a haven for terrorists or a platform for transnational terrorism aimed at the rest of the world.  

The Taliban continue to be wildly unpopular. In the parts of the country where they roam, they are hated. 

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The Afghan people may be tired of war, but they have no desire to see the Taliban return. Nor do they wish to see their country once more become a haven for terrorists or a platform for transnational terrorism aimed at the rest of the world. 

With American help, the people of Afghanistan are rebuilding their lives and their country even in the presence of war. Already, they have accomplished things that citizens of other war-ravaged regions — places like Syria, Sudan and Yemen — can only dream about. 

Indeed, the region as a whole has benefited from the American presence in Afghanistan. A more unstable situation there could produce dangerous spillover effects in neighboring countries — including those two nuclear-armed rivals, India and Pakistan.

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U.S. troops and their allies have done much to free and stabilize Afghanistan, and their accomplishments serve America’s interests well. Moreover, they are now working within a responsible and restrained strategy that has proved remarkably efficient. Troop levels are down, and so is spending. Today, the U.S. spends less on military operations in a year than we used to spend in weeks. 

The reality is the U.S. isn’t fighting endless wars. But U.S. efforts are bringing more peace and stability to troubled parts of the world. And U.S. interests are better protected than they were three years ago. One bad day doesn’t erase that. 

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