Immediately after the atrocity at the World Trade Center on 9/11, we went into Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden, to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban which was protecting it, and to fight the “war on terror”.
Nine years later, we are not only still there, but by almost anyone’s calculation, we are losing. The Taliban has been able to strike in the capital numerous times, the general in charge of the troops has been relieved of his duty for intemperate comments about his superiors and the situation in general, and the signs of improvement are few and far between.
The rationale for the mission has lurched from one rationale to another, and officials in Washington and in Kabul all try to explain what we are trying to accomplish. We have been told it is to keep the streets safe in America. It has been said that we are there to give breathing room to the Afghan government to build up their own forces. We hear that we are there to help build Afghan institutions so that the country can have a civil society. How does that square with the facts now?
According to the AP and ABC, CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Sunday there may be fewer than 50 al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan. Panetta said, “I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity.”
President Barack Obama wants U.S. forces in Afghanistan to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda.” About U.S. 98,000 troops will be in Afghanistan by fall.
“It’s a curious thing about Afghanistan: every time a politician makes the case for why we need to stay, he or she ends up making the case for why we should leave. And he thinks he’s making a case for staying! It’s truly bizarre how many in Washington are describing the situation in Afghanistan accurately, but then fail to draw the most obvious conclusion based on what they’ve just said.” (Ariana Huffington)
Panetta said less than a week ago:“Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there.”
If there are fewer than one hundred members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and if eliminating Al Qaeda is truly the main objective, the costs are staggering in human lives and in scarce dollars that we can not afford. The U.S. has paid more than 300 billion dollars and the costs keep skyrocketing.
General Petreus says that we will win this war, but what does winning mean? Kandahar is still a Taliban stronghold nine years after the start of the war. Unfortunately, there are too many questions and too few answers.
The “Q” word – quagmire – has been mentioned a lot recently. How much time has to elapse before we know if we are in a quagmire? If the definition is “a difficult, precarious, or entrapping position, a predicament” we are already in one.
We all want Afghans to live in a peaceful society, and to be able to raise their families in security and safety. We want Afghan children to get a proper education which will give them a future. We want women to live without the fear which they suffered under during the Taliban years.
The problem is, that it is difficult to see how adding more troops will achieve that goal. It seems to be doing the opposite since in the last nine years more boots on the ground have not produced security for Afghans.