Tough Call on Afghanistan

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People on the Petraeus-Gates-Panetta side know that, with time and patience, insurgencies can be defeated. Colombia, Sri Lanka and Iraq are the most recent examples.

But more than this, those who share the Petraeus-Gates-Panetta view on Afghanistan are haunted by what happened the last time America lost interest in Afghanistan: when the Red Army was defeated and withdrew, America stopped caring about Afghanistan—until September 11, 2001.

Indeed, when asked this past March to make a case for staying the course, Petraeus bluntly replied, “Two words, and those are nine eleven,” reminding Congress that America abandoned Afghanistan once before. “I think it would be a mistake, a big mistake, to go down that road again.”

Whether we declare victory now or stay on until 2014 or 2020, it does seem the battlefront is shifting:

• Osama bin Laden, after all, was in Pakistan. He had been there for years. The jihadists are striking the Pakistani government at will and control parts of the country. It’s ironic that Pakistan was once a jumping-off point for tamping down al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is now the jumping-off point for tamping down al Qaeda in Pakistan.

• Yemen is disintegrating, and Yemen’s branch of al Qaeda is increasingly the epicenter of al Qaeda activity.

• Likewise, lawless Somalia provides an ideal environment for al Qaeda and its kindred movements.

• With a wary eye on Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia is becoming a garrison state, buying up massive amounts of U.S. military equipment and working with Washington to build, equip and train a 35,000-man security force to protect Saudi oil facilities, the largest of which was targeted in a failed al Qaeda attack in 2006. (If the enemy hits the Saudi oil fields, we will long for the days of $4/gallon gas.)

Yet even with those other fronts coming to life, there are few places on earth more deserving of the American military’s attention than Afghanistan. This is partly because of the nature of the enemy, partly because of what Afghanistan spawned 10 Septembers ago and partly because of what America has already invested in Afghanistan.

“For Afghanistan to be able to survive,” defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak recently said during a meeting with Gates, “it will need your help beyond 2014.”

Speaking to U.S. commanders in late 2009, Wardak explained why the war-weary Afghan people have not turned against the U.S.-led NATO mission:

Afghans have never seen you as occupiers, even though this has been the major focus of the enemy’s propaganda campaign. Unlike the Russians, who imposed a government with an alien ideology, you enabled us to write a democratic constitution and choose our own government. Unlike the Russians, who destroyed our country, you came to rebuild.

Indeed, not only did the U.S. military liberate 26 million Afghans by closing the book on the medieval Taliban, it also has laid the foundation for something better. It would be a shame to surrender and squander that. As Gates puts it, “Far too much has been accomplished, at far too great a cost, to let the momentum slip away just as the enemy is on his back foot.”

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.


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  • Amused

    Tough decision ? Not at all . Get our kids out ASAP . Declare victory and LEAVE . There will NEVER be anything that even resembles democracy in this muslim tribal region .After 10 years , anyone who can't see that is BLIND .

  • BS77

    This "war" has lasted twice as long as WW II…consumed billions of dollars and thousands of US casualties….for what? As soon as we leave, the wretched Taliban will resume their hideous system of repression……what a sorry state of affairs.

  • Glennd1

    What's so "tough" about this decision? Our failed attempts to stand up a functioning Afghan democracy are plain for all to see. We never put enough troops on the ground to banish the Taliban, so that could never have been our goal. And Al Qaeda has simply set up shop elsewhere. Our troops our dying there for NOTHING and we are pissing away billions a month like a drunk sailor in port. Get out of there today. Line up the C-5s, C-17s and C-130s, and load 'em up. And give the repugnant Afghani's the finger on the way out. When will we learn that different cultures are not so easily changed. Not everyone wants modernity or our version of freedom. Wait till we leave Iraq and it falls to the violent elements there. Already, the big winner in the region is Iran – yet another unintended consequence of our meddling. Wake up America – we have idiots running our country.

  • Jim_C

    Leave yesterday, put a sign on the door that says "You're welcome," and underneath that "P.S. Don't try blowing us up again or we'll come back next time without the candy bars."

  • Lightning Jack

    Actually, there are no guarantees that Afghanistan and its provisional government will be able to function as a viable nation state even by 2014.

    It has also been reported that hundreds of millions in reconstruction funds have been embezzled by corrupt Afghani government officials and deposited in their accounts at the Bank of Dubai. As if this is a surprising revelation!

    We've had over 10 years in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and al- Qaeda, but the reason they're still there is because then, as now, politics and political correctness have dominated our strategic policy decisions. We believe that in time, we can eventually win their hearts and minds by fighting a kinder, gentler war. Rocks won't live that long.

    Afghanistan was, and is, a Muslim theocratic "Sharia" state, democracy is not compatible with its feudal tribal culture, or its base fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. Why not get out and just pay a mercenary force to provide future security and counter insurgency operations, they could do just as good a job, and it would be more cost effective in the long term.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    the real question, it seems, is not whether or not “it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility” but this: are Afghans capable of taking on more responsibility, capable of maintaining the institutions we have built to resist the impulses to jihadism, and if not, does staying the course serve America’s interests or does withdrawing?

    I hate to have to rain on your clueless parade again, but like Iraq, Afghanistan is a Sharia state, and if you believe a Sharia state will resist jihad instead of inciting it, then I have a bridge for sale I need to sell you. When we finally leave Afghanistan, Afghanistan will rejoin to global jihad so fast it will make your head spin, and the same goes for Iraq. Of course, when inevitably reality hits you clueless neo-cons in the face, no doubt you guys will still deny it. Lord knows you guys have had plenty of practice denying reality for the past 10 years.

    We want to ensure that Afghanistan does not become, again, a safe haven in which [al Qaeda] might plot attacks such as those of 9/11…

    The only reason the 9/11 terrorist attacks were successful in the first place is because we had millions of Muslim stealth jihadists already living in America. Had we not stupidly, suicidally, and insanely let those Muslim stealth jihadists immigrate and infiltrate our country as a fifth column, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which is really violent and overt jihad, would have been impossible. Nevertheless, although like loons the neo-cons are transfixed only on the violent and overt jihadists, the reality is the stealth and deceptive non-violent jihadists, of whom the neo-cons are totally oblivious, represents an exponentially far greater threat to us in the long run.

    Thus, if we banned and reversed Muslim immigration, not only could we save hundreds of billions of dollars a year by tearing down the Department of Homeland Security and the National Intelligence Directorate the Bush administration created to continue accommodating mass Muslims immigration and all of its excess baggage, but also we would not have to worry about domestic Islamic terrorist attacks, as zero Muslim stealth jihadists living in America equals zero violent jihad attacks, which you neo-cons like loons misconstrue as being terrorism.

    Likewise, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that “if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.” Likewise, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that “if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.”

    Talk about delusional, but you really have to be pretty damn delusional to make an utterly absurd statement like the one above. Indeed, it’s very sad, we don’t have a single person in our government that has the first clue about Islam, which makes me wonder if it is by design, since people can’t remain stupid for that long unless it is by design.

  • CS6

    Wardak also owns a huge home in Virginia. Reality is, the best Afghans — any of them with some measure of human capital — all have an escape plan. The country's population is 20% literate. The Army has similar numbers to the population, at the officer level it's about 80% literacy. Read that again. Glass half empty: one in five officers cannot read. And "Literacy" is loosely defined as "possessing a certificate that states one can read". These are obtainable by bribery.

    Compared to Iraq, which has at least some measure of human capital, and a readily exportable natural resource, Afghanistan has few things going for it. All the bribery remarks in the previous comments are true.

    We are wasting time now.