In the early days of the War in Afghanistan, the U.S. unleashed its most powerful non-nuclear weapon on al Qaida. Senior members of the jihadist group were believed to be hiding in a cave system in the eastern Tora Bora mountains. To flush them out, the Air Force dropped a 15,000-pound “daisy cutter”— an automobile-size bomb that incinerates anything within 600 yards. Nearly 16 years later, the U.S. is still pounding Tora Bora; only the size of the explosion and the name of the jihadist group have changed. Last week, the military blasted an ISIS-held cave complex with a 30-foot-long, 21,600-pound GBU-43/B, the socalled mother of all bombs. (See Controversy and Best Columns: International.) Experts said the bombing sent a clear signal to the U.S.’s enemies that the Trump administration was prepared to use overwhelming force. But it seems doubtful that bigger bombs will be a game changer in Afghanistan.
Since 2001, America’s longest war has cost the U.S. nearly $1 trillion and the lives of more than 2,300 military personnel. Another 20,000 troops have been wounded, and tens of thousands have returned home with minds scarred by PTSD. Yet victory in Afghanistan remains out of reach. Disgust at Afghanistan’s corrupt central government has fueled support for the Taliban among their fellow ethnic Pashtuns, and the insurgent group now controls one-third of the country and continues to pose a threat to major cities. Civilian and Afghan military casualties are rising, ISIS is launching more suicide bomb attacks, and Afghan opium production recently hit an all-time high. But the U.S. can’t simply walk away from this permanently failing state—Taliban insurgents would soon take power and foreign jihadists would again be free to set up terrorist training camps. In Afghanistan, the best result our bombs, blood, and treasure can buy is a bloody, endless stalemate.