Afghanistan is the dirty little secret of the US presidential campaign

Fight against Taliban is now America’s longest war but has been all but ignored by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

With all eyes focused on Mosul, Aleppo and Russia’s military buildup in the Middle East, the sharply deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has been all but ignored by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Whoever wins the US presidency, such insouciance will be hard to justify beyond January’s inauguration day.

As this week’s killing of 30 villagers in Ghor province showed, Afghanistan has a way of forcing itself into the political headlights. Barack Obama learned this lesson the hard way. He promised to end the war. Instead, he escalated, faltered, then lost interest.

Obama’s 2009 Afghan “surge”, supported by Clinton, then the US secretary of state, sent an additional 51,000 troops to the country. But the reinforcements failed to end the Taliban insurgency. In 2014 Obama said the war was ending. But he has had to eat his words. As he leaves office, 8,400 US soldiers and a large air force contingent remain behind.

The Afghan Taliban, supported by elements in Pakistan, are still the deadliest and most numerous foe. Recent estimates suggest they are gaining territory in Helmand, where British troops once did battle. Repeated offensives around Kunduz in the north and audacious attacks on Kabul have been beaten back, but with great difficulty.

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