NPR interview with Former Senior Adviser of Defense Department, Chris Kolenda.
Rachel Martin of National Public Radio interviews Chris Kolenda, a former senior adviser to the Defense Department. He discusses the failures of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, and how it risks becoming another Vietnam.
Chis Kolenda graduated from the United States Military Academy and went on to serve in the United States Army with great distinction. He served as the Senior Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Department of Defense senior leadership and has served four tours of duty in Afghanistan.
MARTIN: So as you know, over the past 15 years, the U.S. has spent, you know, upwards of $70 billion training local security forces in Afghanistan. It clearly hasn't been enough to keep the Taliban at bay. What did that money buy? And was it worth it?
KOLENDA: Well, the problem in Afghanistan is you've got what I call a teetering stalemate. So if you imagine a teeter-totter and you're looking at the teeter-totter and you've got the Afghan government on one side; you've got the Taliban on the other. The - it's a teeter-totter that only has so much play in it. Right? So the Afghan government right now, according to a DOD report, controls about 52 percent of the country. And the Taliban control, as you mentioned, about about a third or so. And the remainder is contested. So maybe the Taliban controlled 20 percent; 20 percent's contested, and then the Afghan government controls about 50, 55 percent or so.
And the challenge that we've got is that neither side is going to win an outright victory. So the teeter-totter is only going to move so much. So you've got a stalemate. And right now, the contest is, who can go into a peace process - that is going to have to happen at some point - with better leverage?
KOLENDA: So we've spent a lot of money in Afghanistan. We've spent...
KOLENDA: ...Over 800 billion, sort of writ large in, you know, all of our taxpayer dollars. And it's been - you've got a government that's kleptocratic. You've got...
MARTIN: Yeah, there's all kinds of corruption problems.
KOLENDA: ...Security forces that have some challenges, sure.
MARTIN: I want to follow up on the metaphor, if I could. A teeter-totter, at best, is an equilibrium - right? So that means - are you suggesting that the Taliban must be a part of a solution?
KOLENDA: Well, I think it's - when you look at just the the realities of things and, as much as I despise the Taliban and what they stand for - I've spent a lot of time fighting the Taliban myself along with my soldiers. The bottom line is that the Afghan government has proved itself unable to take control of area - of territories that have been under Taliban control.
KOLENDA: And they've been unable to seize contested areas. And so you've got to, at some point, face reality.
MARTIN: I want to close just in seconds. Is this a place the U.S. is going to have to keep financially supporting in perpetuity?
KOLENDA: Well, if we - we should do that but only if we have a credible strategy. My advice for the Trump administration - get serious, or get out. With a credible strategy, we ought to continue funding and supporting Afghanistan and bringing the war to a successful conclusion. But if we're not going to have a credible and serious strategy, then it's time to stop bankrolling the place.
MARTIN: And you don't see that yet, that clear strategy.
KOLENDA: No. But fortunately, there is a review going on right now. And I am hopeful that people like Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster and General Nicholson and others will be able to come up with a whole of government strategy...
KOLENDA: ...That makes sense and brings the war to a successful conclusion.