Taliban militants struck the city of Lashkar Gah for the first time in years Monday, which could signal an imminent nail in the coffin for President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy in Afghanistan
Hundreds of NATO troops died in Helmand province during the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001-2014, and it was the site of Obama’s first major foreign policy decision in 2010.
in 2008 on a promise to withdraw troops from Iraq and win the “good war” in Afghanistan. Obama decided to surge troops to 165,000 in 2010 and imposed an artificial deadline for withdrawal of surge forces 18 months later.
Obama’s senior advisors, including
Army Gen. David Petraeus, told him the withdrawal announcement concurrent with the surge announcement would neuter the surge’s purpose. Helmand province is an ethnic sanctuary for the Taliban, and the U.S. deployed tens of thousands of troops to secure metropolitan areas.
Helmand today is an enduring
sign of the effect of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. The Taliban has seized large swaths of territory throughout the province, and besieged the city of Lashkar Gah for months. If the Taliban is able to capture the city from U.S.-backed Afghan Security Forces, it will mark just the second seizure of a major city since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
Obama has loosened
U.S. rules of engagement to allow U.S. forces to proactively help the Afghan Security Forces, and vowed to keep up to 8,400 troops in the country by the end of his presidency. Obama previously wanted to transfer full combat authority to the U.S.-backed Afghan government, mirroring
his withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.
“Lashkar Gah will not fall,” Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson defiantly declared just two days before the bombing. Nicholson doubled down saying
, “We are with you and we will stay with you.”
Despite continued U.S. air support and looser rules of engagement, the Afghan Security Forces are suffering historic casualties. Nearly 900 Afghan soldiers were killed July, 2016 alone, Nicholson admitted
to The Washington Post. Nicholson’s admission indicates the Afghan forces are losing nearly 18 men per day, an extraordinarily high casualty rate.
Amid the Taliban’s besiegement of Lashkar Gah, it is launching a coordinated offensive on the city of Kunduz 500 miles away. The Taliban seized the city of Kunduz in September, 2015, marking the first such event since the war began in 2001.
U.S. military advisors are reportedly
concerned that the beleaguered Afghan forces will not be able to stave off two major military offensives hundreds of miles apart.
“You got rid of the Taliban in three days once. Why can’t you do the same thing now?” One Afghan tribal elder from Helmand province asked Nicholson, according to the Washington Post.
Another man lamented to the general “If, God forbid, we lose Lashkar Gah, then Helmand will collapse and the whole region and Afghanistan will collapse.”
He closed his statement with a plea, “Please save us from this chaos.”
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