In Cold War era folklore it used to be said that the supply of stinger missiles to the Afghan Mujahideen, in the 1980s, was a masterstroke by the Central Intelligence Agency. The stinger apparently unnerved Soviet pilots and effectively put an end to the air superiority of the Red Army in Afghanistan – and probably hastened the victory of the so-called Afghan jihad against Soviet intervention. Are we now tiptoeing toward another “masterstroke” – this time around, ironically, directed against the open-ended US occupation of Afghanistan?

The other day we reported on the Department of Defense’s study dubbed the “Estimated Cost to Each Taxpayer for the Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.” The DoD places the total authorized war spending on those conflicts between 2001 and 2018 at $1.5 trillion. They claimed $250 million a day for the wars. Of course the DoD ignored the trillions in conflict-linked spending appropriated mainly through the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, State, Defense, and Veteran Affairs. A new study conducted by Brown University shows that the costs are almost four times what the Pentagon shared with us. They also came to conclusion that their higher numbers are probably too low.

The Taliban in Afghanistan has many things in common with the Kurds in the region. Countries (to include the US) have “used” them to check Iran’s influence over Iran. Like the Kurds, the relationship hasn’t always worked out well. After the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan the country was left in social and economic distress. 1.5 million dead, millions of refugees and a huge political vacuum. Afghanistan’s warlords attempted to fill the gap. The Taliban, made up of orphans who never knew Afghanistan, but schooled in Pakistan filled the gap. They brought law and order to a country that sorely needed it. Pakistan supported them, as did the US Clinton administration. This was a switch for us, as previously our support for the mujahideen to defeat the Soviet Union created al-Qaeda. Although we Americans aren’t famous for identifying distinctions between different cultures, there are more than one group of the Taliban, with the Afghanistan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban being two of the more notorious different groups. The important lesson for us is that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are not the same groups. The Afghanistan Taliban are an extreme religious group that is very internally focused on Afghanistan. We share a common enemy with the Taliban in al-Qaeda. Perhaps we can agree to leave them alone. (2 comments)

From the moment of the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, in fact, everything the U.S. military touched in these years has turned to dust. Nations across the Greater Middle East and Africa collapsed under the weight of American interventions or those of its allies, and terror movements, one grimmer than the next, spread in a remarkably unchecked fashion.