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Why The US Should
Leave Afghanistan

Terrell E. Arnold
Beginning early in the presidential election campaign last year, both candidates asserted that they would increase the heat in Afghanistan. Between 2001 and early 2009, military operation in that country, which so far have accomplished nothing, occupied virtually the entire Bush presidency and burned roughly $200 billion of the US treasury. So far over 500 Americans have been killed, along with 150 allies and thousands of Afghani people. Wounded and traumatized military and civilian personnel number in the tens of thousands. In the Pakistan phase of this campaign, begun late in the Bush term and now started in the Obama term, the US has conducted at least 38 mainly drone raids, killing more than 150 people, few if any of whom are provably terrorists. With that the US is now courting the enmity of 50 million Pushtun people who by agreement with Islamabad rule that region of Pakistan.
One would think that such a gruesome track record, coupled with the fact that the only result to date is that the Karzai Government controls the capital city of Kabul, while five or more heroin-financed drug lords control the countryside, would raise at least a few questions of utility. But no! Rising costs, declining prospects, and the fact that no outsider has ever won a war in Afghanistan be damned, the war will go on. Americans have a right to know why. Indeed, so does everybody else on the planet.
The truth is depressing. One of the earliest disfavors George W. Bush did for Americans was to crudely define the purposes of this war: He targeted his campaign on al Qaida, saying "We will fight them over there so that we won't have to fight them over here." That became the central Bush administration mantra of the War on Terrorism.
The Bush strategy slowly morphed into selected drone and manned flight bombings in northwestern Pakistan, the region known as Waziristan. Although Bush claimed that Pakistan was an American ally, he and his team apparently saw no inconsistency in claiming an alliance while selectively killing the Pushtun people of Pakistan and other regional tribals in the ally's backyard.
Obama signed on to this strategy when he authorized a drone attack in Waziristan earlier this week. But the campaign narrative changed; all of a sudden the target was the Taliban, not al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
With that shift, the purposes of the war suddenly changed. The US was no longer ostensibly fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. Instead, the Obama mission had become a fight against Islamic fundamentalism.
Somehow, overnight, the US was thrust back to 2001. The new game is not precisely to throw the Taliban out. It is to keep them from coming back into power. Keeping them out of Afghanistan presumably would also limit the power and freedom of action of al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
Just what is in this strategy for us? Let's look first at what the Taliban had done to deserve this awkward distinction. When the Soviet Union had enough of Afghanistan warfare and withdrew in defeat in 1989, the country experienced about five years of factional in-fighting and change, reasonably defined as political chaos. During that period the Taliban emerged as a force, first by being hired by Pakistan to protect or facilitate traffic through contentious regions like the Khyber Pass, and second by being supported spiritually, politically and financially by fundamentalist religious schools in Pakistan. The Taliban proved very effective, better motivated, organized and supported than anybody else, and they grew quickly as a power center in Afghanistan's fragmented political environment. Then, in 1996, they took the country away from its US and western supported, but weak, post-Soviet era government.
The Taliban, under their traditionalist leader Muhammad Omar, qualify as hard-core, strict constructionist Muslims. Among their first actions they forbade any provision of education to women. They also objected to opium and heroin production and shut down the industry throughout Afghanistan. But from a US/western point of view, their main sin on taking over the government in 1996 was to provide a safe-haven to Osama bin Laden.
In August 1998, al Qaida affiliated terrorists carried out brutal raids on US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In fact, bin Laden's power base was then split between Sudan and Afghanistan, and that accounts for President Clinton's bold but largely ineffective US missile strikes on reputed al-Qaida targets in those two countries. The collateral damage, meaning the many civilian casualties, of the Clinton attacks was largely ignored in the US. But it is not unlikely that those two missile attacks were part of the motivation for the 9/11 events.
For the past seven years the US has known loosely where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida may be. So far, it has spent seven years, nearly $200 billion, over 500 American lives. 150 allied lives, and a good piece of its reputation on an as yet unsuccessful effort to bring them down.
One of the most popular images of official incompetence these days is that of the person who does the same thing over and over again while each time expecting different results. President Barack Obama seems to be trapped in this illusion. He is facing the most compelling of political fears: If he were to stop the war in Afghanistan and a major terrorist attack were to occur in the United States, his critics will be quick to say it was his fault.
As of now, for nearly three decades the US has been variously devoted to bringing peace to Afghanistan. That has achieved little so far beyond returning the Afghan countryside to its drug producing overlords and permitting Afghanistan to supply 90% of the world's heroin. Yet it appears that the safest domestic political course for any but the boldest of American presidents is to continue this useless war.
However, the consequences of this war are mounting as the US shreds it alliance with Pakistan and goads the Pushtun people into defending themselves. The US simply does not have the military resources to deal with 50 million angry Pushtun people defending themselves at home in one of the remotest places on earth. The correct appreciation is to know not when we have lost but when we cannot win and back gracefully out of it.
_Late breaking development_: According to the TIMES ONLINE, President Obama "has demanded that American defense chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge." In a recent meeting at the Pentagon he reportedly asked the Joint Chiefs and other defense officials "what is the endgame", and he did not like the answers he received. This question should have been asked much earlier and it certainly deserved to be asked before the US increases its already large human and financial investment in that campaign. It is most disturbing that good answers were not immediately forthcoming, but their absence is wholly in keeping with what many serious observers of the Afghan scene believe is the reality of the situation. __
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at
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