In Afghanistan, politics has abdicated. The military decides everything.
This applies to the United States, where President Donald Trump has delegated to the Secretary of Defense James Mattis the decision on the number of soldiers to be sent to the Central Asian country.
It’s also true for Italy, where the Parliament has become an office that certifies decisions already made: paper, stamp, protocol. In an article published by La Repubblica on Saturday, we learned that “the leadership of the armed forces has prepared a plan for boosting the Afghan contingent by another 100 soldiers, who will join the 950 already deployed at the Herat base.”
The decision will then be “evaluated by [Defense] Minister [Roberta] Pinotti and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. If approved, Gentiloni will have to communicate it to the Chambers. The involvement of parliamentary committees is not ruled out…”
The pyramid is inverted. The political leadership is not the one — as a result of a collective consultation — to indicate what to do to the armed forces; the armed forces mark the route. There’s more and more inertia.
The increase in the number of Italian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan reflects the traditional Atlantic subordination: If the U.S. calls, Italy responds at attention, if anything, claiming a place in the sun (“Italy aspires to occupy some key seats” at NATO).
And it goes back to the balance between institutional powers, with foreign policy subjugated to “defense” and the Parliament as a place of policy and conflict resolution.
But the war in Afghanistan is, first and foremost, a political war. Actually, so political that ministers and prime ministers will stay away from it. They know it’s lost, but they do not have the courage to admit it. Their solution, then, is simple: Discuss it as little as possible, while giving carte blanche — and responsibility — to the military. Get used to saying yes.
The Italian “yes” follows that of other countries such as the U.K. and Denmark, which have already promised their support to NATO for the American surge that, so far, has been discovered through leaks to the press. Trump gave Mattis the authority to decide how and how many U.S. troops will go to swell the ranks of the 8,400 star-spangled soldiers are already operating in Afghanistan. According to Mattis, details will be clarified in mid-July.
In the meantime, the debate rages. Analysts wonder what the new American surge will accomplish in a country where the military mission has been fruitless. But the leading theoretician of the surge, retired General David Petraeus, has not only given his support to sending new soldiers but made clear in an interview some of the details of Mattis’s plan. For the surge in Iraq and Afghanistan, not only is the number of 3,000 or 5,000 soldiers “sustainable,” but the United States “should relax the remaining restrictions on the use of our air power to support our Afghan partners.”
In other words, not just more troops, but more bombs — and without restrictions that, at least in theory, require the Air Force to advise and agree with Kabul on its raid plans. However, the Afghan authorities have already experienced a surge in a way: For the last two years, the number of civilian casualties from the sky has increased.
The Pentagon may finally get a free hand without having to await permission from Kabul or orders from the president for actions that normally require the approval of the White House.
If the U.S. military is no longer mandated to present its plans in Kabul, the military would become a superpower. It already gave a sign of its intentions in April with the deployment of the so-called “Mother of All Bombs,” which dropped 11 tons of explosives in the border area with Pakistan.