WARSAW, Poland--“Why are we here?” is a basic question that coalition troops in Afghanistan have to answer.
The simple question evinces a lot of different answers, said Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, the new commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“Each nation has its own objectives, and then there are NATO objectives,” Miller said prior to the NATO Military Committee meeting here. “So you get a lot of different answers when you speak to the troops. But it all comes down to protecting the citizens at home.”
This is easy enough to forget. The events that precipitated military actions in Afghanistan occurred 17 years ago. To put this in perspective, some of the coalition soldiers assigned to Afghanistan were a year old when al-Qaida terrorists killed 3,000 people in America.
They have no direct memories of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, or an aircraft slamming into the Pentagon, or Americans fighting back and forcing a plane commandeered by terrorists to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. They know about Sept. 11, 2001, because they studied it, but they don’t have the visceral emotions that those who watched the Twin Towers fall or counted the number of friends dead in the rubble of the Pentagon.
Al-Qaida had safe haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban leaders of the nation protected Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants as they planned the attack against the United States.
NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that created the alliance for – so far – the only time in its history, as the nations of the alliance came to the aid of America in the aftermath of the horrific attack. Article 5 states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.
In the more than 17 years since the attack, more than 1,100 NATO and coalition troops have lost their lives combating terrorism in Afghanistan. And this is not just an American conflict or problem. Terrorists have struck London, Madrid, Paris, Nice, Bali, the Philippines, Mumbai and many other cities and countries.
Ungoverned or loosely governed areas attract terror groups. They use monies raised from taxing areas they occupy or – like the Taliban and others – money from illegal activities such as the drug trade to finance their attacks. They use these safe havens to train new terrorists and indoctrinate new recruits into the hateful ideologies they espouse.
Making Their Own Countries Safer
Miller, who has been commander of the NATO mission only since Sept. 2, reminds coalition troops that what they are doing in Afghanistan makes their own countries safer. They are protecting their fellow citizens.
The “train, advise, assist” mission allows Afghan security forces to take the fight to the enemy. They are working to give the Afghan government the security needed to provide stability. That makes the nation untenable for terrorists who want to make it a safe haven again.
The answer in Afghanistan is reconciliation between the government and the Taliban. The war has continued for 17 years. NATO and coalition forces are in for the long haul, and the Taliban cannot hope to wait out the coalition. The smart option is to reconcile and rebuild Afghanistan together, the general said.
Terror groups such as ISIS-Khorasan, al-Qaida and others have no role in a new Afghanistan. Afghan security forces and coalition operators target those groups to crush them to erase their ideology.
There are many challenges ahead for Miller and the coalition. There are Afghan elections next month and presidential elections set for next year. The coalition needs to provide more training for more units in the Afghan army and police. The Afghan air force needs to continue to grow and develop to provide support to those on the ground. Neighboring nations need to do more.
And the coalition troops in the country need to remember why they are there, Miller said: to protect their own citizens and families.
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