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The Dallas Morning News: In Afghanistan, 17 years of war

August 10, 2018

America’s nearly 17-year war in Afghanistan, the longest in our 242-year history, isn’t mentioned much in the news these days. Indeed, with U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan averaging about 17 a year since 2015 — down from a high of nearly 500 in 2010 — a surprising number of Americans are unaware the war is still being waged. Some of that confusion likely stems from the Obama-era name change of the U.S. mission in the country. At the start of 2015, Operation Enduring Freedom became Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Along with that change came a substantial reduction in troops — and later, promises from Republican candidate Donald Trump to pull out of Afghanistan entirely.

But last year, President Trump, like his predecessor, chose to maintain and then ramp up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The great majority of the roughly 15,000 U.S. troops on the ground there today — a nearly 50 percent increase since Trump took office — are there to train Afghan military and security personnel as part of what the Pentagon calls Security Force Assistance Brigades.

As part of this new offensive, U.S. forces are targeting the Taliban’s cash crop — poppies — which are used to make heroin and other narcotics. As Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in November, “This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on Taliban revenue.” These airstrikes, he added, are “allowed under the authorities that I was granted under the new U.S. strategy. I could not do that previously.”

The Trump administration’s approach to Afghanistan has been focused and, dare we say it, productive. It would be Pollyannaish to say an end is in sight to a 17-year conflict in which more than 2,400 U.S. military and civilian personnel have given their lives. But there is room for hope.

— The Dallas Morning News

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