Nine years ago, we were told we had to go to Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda. There was virtually no discussion of what the potential consequences of invading Afghanistan would be, but following the attacks of 9/11 most Americans favored the move.
Few of us imagined that a decade later we would have nearly 100,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan, especially when the CIA now estimates there might be less than a hundred al Qaeda in that country.
Soon the war in Afghanistan will enter its 10th year. It is already the longest war in our nation’s history, longer than Vietnam. Longer than World War I and World War II combined. One thing remains clear — there is no end in sight.
The Afghan government is plagued by incompetence and corruption. President Hamid Karzai has been erratic and has reportedly been in secret negotiations with the Taliban and Pakistan to broker a deal for security without the input of the United States. He recently ordered that all private security contractors must leave the country by the end of the year which will likely slow many foreign projects and potentially delay some day-to-day military activities. Yet, the Afghan security force is in shambles with high rates of attrition and defection.
Our men and women in uniform have performed with incredible courage and commitment and have this nation’s gratitude — but they have been put in an impossible situation. I believe, as most people do, that our military can do everything we want them to do … But we’re asking them to fight a war that is not very well-defined and we are asking them to do it with one arm tied behind their back.
I wish I could believe that, if we stay in Afghanistan, a year or even five years from now, the country will have a stable, functioning government. But I see no evidence this will be the case. It is likely the generals will come back next year and ask for more time and more troops — regardless of whether the situation is getting better or worse.
Reality is grim and often painful. If it is allowed, the conflict in Afghanistan will be an endless war in the name of the war on terrorism. Afghanistan is a mess because our leaders have lost sight of the original mission that was described and approved by Congress – to seek out those who attacked us on 9/11. Instead, they have become sidetracked with such nebulous tasks such as promoting democracy and nation building. The Soviets bankrupted themselves fighting in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan and we’re about to do the same. There is nothing left for our military to win in Afghanistan, and everything to lose. Most of all, we need to come to the realization that we don’t understand Afghan culture and politics, and for that reason alone, intervening in their affairs is unlikely to produce positive results.
It is time to bring our military men and women home.
I do not want — as I believe most Americans do not want — to sell out American interests, to simply withdraw, to raise the white flag of surrender. That would be unacceptable to us as a country and as a people. But I am concerned that our present course will not bring victory. Nor will it bring peace or advance the interests of the United States. Indeed, I quite frankly do not see or understand what victory in Afghanistan looks like and I do not see how a continued presence in Afghanistan or Iraq serves to advance the interests of the United States. While we have not found Osama bin Laden or his body, we have succeeded at the rest of the original mission and then some.
Let us have no misunderstanding. Terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda are brutal enemies indeed. Time and time again, they have shown a willingness to sacrifice innocent civilians, to engage in torture and murder and all means of despicable terror to achieve their goals. There can be no easy moral answer to the war on terror, but al Qaeda and the Taliban who supports them are not in Afghanistan any longer. In that, our military has been successful.
By ending our involvement, first in Iraq and then Afghanistan, it will permit us to concentrate on mending badly damaged relationships around the world and give the proper attention and the moral energy to begin dealing effectively with the pressing domestic problems of the United States here at home.