July 27, 2010

Eight Reasons Why We Should End the War in Afghanistan

Although there might not be any major bombshells in the recently-released Afghanistan war logs, the logs have been getting a fair amount of play in the media. Which, of course, is a good thing. Perhaps—and I’m not holding my breath here—but perhaps all of this will turn at least a few people’s attention away from whatever it is that they’ve been talking about—Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan, I really haven’t been paying much attention—and we’ll start to have a much-needed debate about the war. Well here’s my contribution to the debate, eight reasons why we should bring our troops home.

1) Many Afghans are getting killed.
Although NATO forces make efforts to limit civilian casualties, the fact remains that they’re still killing large numbers of civilians. And this number is rising. During the first quarter of this year, for instance, NATO troops killed more than twice as many civilians as they did during the same period last year.[1]

2) Many Americans are getting killed. This number, too, is rising. According to the Pentagon, 52 US troops were killed in June, the highest monthly total since the war began.[2] Of course, some of you probably think it’s worth it, some of you probably have no problem sending other people’s sons and daughters halfway around the world to get killed for a cause that the president claims “is in our vital national interest.”[3] Keep reading…

3) Al-Qaeda has been all but eliminated from Afghanistan. As Robert Dreyfuss has reported, many former intelligence officials believe that the U.S. military all but obliterated the group shortly after 9/11. According to one former CIA operations officer: “We had a lot of success with airstrikes. We came in with B-52s and F-16s, and at Tora Bora we dropped a 15,000-pound device on them. We blew them to bits. If you wanted to do a body count, you would have needed to pick up the pieces with Q-Tips.”[4] Just a couple weeks ago, CIA Director Leon Panetta claimed that there are no more than 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in the country.[5] Although some al-Qaeda operatives fled to Pakistan, US National Counterterrorism Director Michael Leiter estimates that there are only around 300 such individuals there.[6]

4) Even if the US left now and even if the Taliban regained power, there’s no reason to believe that the Taliban would again allow al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan as a safe haven. As Stephen Walt has argued: “Protecting al Qaeda back in 2001 brought no end of trouble to Mullah Omar and his associates, and if they were lucky enough to regain power, it is hard to believe they would give us a reason to come back in force.” And even if the Taliban allowed al Qaeda to return, Walt notes that “the United States isn’t going to sit around and allow them to go about their business undisturbed. The Clinton administration wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go after al Qaeda’s training camps back in the 1990s (though they eventually did, albeit somewhat half-heartedly), but that was before 9/11. We know more now and the U.S. government is hardly going to be bashful about attacking such camps in the future.”[7]

5) The war is fueling the insurgency. According to Matthew Hoh, the Marine captain turned Foreign Service officer who resigned in protest of the war last October: “the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.” Moreover: “The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.” The reason for this, Hoh explains, is simple: although most Pashtuns don’t love the Taliban, they can’t help but view the US-NATO occupation “as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies.”[8]

6) The war is fueling terrorism. Although still unpopular to state in many circles, the fact remains that they (that is, terrorists) want to kill us (that is, Americans) because of the violence our government is wreaking throughout the Muslim world. From our support of dictatorships in places like Egypt and Indonesia to our unflagging support of Israel to our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast majority of terrorists want to kill us, not because of who we are, not because of what we believe, but because of what our government does. As Michael Scheuer, who formerly headed the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, has stated: “It is…the Muslim perception that the things they love are being intentionally destroyed by America that engenders Islamist hatred toward the United States, and that simultaneously motivates a few Muslims to act alone and attack U.S. interests; a great many more to join organizations like al Qaeda and its allies; and massive numbers to support those organizations’ defensive military actions with prayers, donations, blind eyes, or logistical assistance.”[9]

7) The war is bankrupting us. This year alone the war is going to cost us around one hundred billion dollars. You heard me right. One hundred billion dollars. This year alone. [10] In order to pay for this, the government has two options. One, it can drive us deeper into debt, which will have the affect of further devaluing the dollar and making us all poorer. Two, it can cut social programs, which will just heap more suffering on millions of Americans who have already been devastated by the greed and excesses of our politicians and their corporate buddies.

8) The war is unwinnable. Counterinsurgency, let’s remember, is essentially a hearts and minds campaign. The goal is to win over the local population, to turn them against the insurgents and towards the “legitimate” (that is, American-backed) government. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious just how much most Afghans despise Hamid Karzai’s corrupt, warlord-promoting, woman-denigrating, election-stealing regime. According to a recent Pentagon report, while the population supports the Afghan government in none—repeat: none—of the country’s 121 “key districts,” it supports the Taliban in 8 key districts. And while the population “sympathizes with” the Afghan government in 29 key districts (24%), it sympathizes with the Taliban in 40 districts (33%) [11]. None of this should surprise us, of course. Last October, General Stanley McChrystal admitted that, even if received all the troops he wanted, his plan carried “a high risk of failing” (AP’s words).[12] And then last month, during one of his final briefings, McChrystal spoke of a “resilient and growing insurgency” and admitted that he didn’t expect things to get any better within the next six months.[13] Why we should expect things to improve after that isn’t exactly clear.

[1] Paul Wiseman, “NATO strikes killing more Afghan civilians,” USA Today, 16 April 2010 (h/t Antiwar.com).

[2] “June troop deaths in Afghanistan top 100,” UPI, 1 July 2010.

[3] “FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Obama's Speech on Afghanistan,” ABC News, 1 December 2009.

[4] “The Phony War,” Rolling Stone, 21 September 2006.

[5] Anne Flaherty, "CIA's Panetta: Few al-Qaida are in Afghanistan," AP News, 27 June 2010.

[6] David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, “New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered,” New York Times, 30 June 2010.

[7] “The Safe Haven Myth,” Foreign Policy, 18 August 2010.

[8] Karen DeYoung, “U.S. official resigns over Afghan war,” Washington Post, 27 October 2009.

[9] Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror (Potomac Books, Inc., 2004), 9-10.

[10] Brian Faler, “War Bill Approved as Afghan Conflict Tops Iraq in Cost, Troops,” Bloomberg Business Week, 28 May 2010.

[11] Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, April 2010.

[12] Lara Jakes, “AP Sources: Afghan corruption worries McChrystal,” Associated Press, 14 October 2009.

[13] Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, “The last post: McChrystal’s bleak outlook,” The Independent, 27 June 2010.


Chet said...

I have to agree with this article you posted. All I can is Afghanistan is Vietnam number 2.

Don Emmerich said...

I wasn't alive during Vietnam. But I've read a few things, seen some documentaries -- and it seems that all the arguments made for and against Vietnam were almost exactly the same arguments being made for and against Afghanistan, just change the details.