Time to Get Out of Afghanistan — Now, Not Later
by Eric Mosher | Bennington College
Just about every few weeks, some new horror story from the war in Afghanistan makes headlines. Already this year, we’ve read about the Qur’an-burning fiasco, the infamous massacre, several instances of Afghanis in uniform turning on NATO soldiers, and the continued development and evolution of the terrorist networks entrenched in the Afghani countryside.
We appear to have reached a plateau in an increasingly unpopular war, and our strategy going forward needs to be reassessed. Should we continue fighting until we have reached some tangible form of “victory,” or should we start to pack our bags and come home as quickly as possible, cutting our losses as much as we still can?
This conflict, taking place in the wilderness stretching between Afghanistan and Pakistan, cannot be won. We can’t stay another handful of years in order to uphold the tenuous progress we’ve so painfully accomplished.
We can’t think ending conflict now would somehow weaken the commitment made by the thousands of dead and injured American soldiers, or would tarnish the memory of those 3,000 souls lost in September 2001.
We must not believe more war will bring back all the people who have already been hurt by this conflict.
Idealism and war do not mix well. We must assess this situation with pragmatism and open-mindedness; we must not separate ourselves from the realities we see before us.
The reality is that it’s always impossible to destroy an ideology with bullets, especially in the modern, globalized and technologically advanced world of today. Our weapons can disorganize the terrorist networks in southern Afghanistan, but disruption and disintegration are two different things. We could never fully destroy the mindset and ideology shared by these terrorist organizations using traditional methods of war.
Another reality is that it is no longer fiscally feasible to continue this war in the way it’s been waged thus far. We’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars, with very little to show for it, even after 11 years. Bin Laden is dead and the Taliban are not in power, but other than that, how much has changed in Afghanistan?
The government remains corrupt, and the rule of law is weak. Both nations involved are becoming tired of the seemingly eternal war. This war has been costly in terms of dollars, but even more costly in terms of lives, and neither side can afford to keep spending.
We cannot do everything we might have wanted to do in Afghanistan. Much of the progress we’ve so painstakingly made will almost certainly be lost after our departure. But those losses won’t make it so all those thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in vain. It’s the lesser of two evils, the better choice between entrenching ourselves forever in a war with no possible victory, and cutting our losses and leaving Afghanistan as strong as we possibly can.
Even if we were to leave the country tomorrow, our work there would be far from done. We would have to work with the Afghan government and continue offering training to their fledgling security forces. We should also continue some covert drone operations, targeting specific Taliban or Al-Qaeda personnel. Those are the kind of actions that effectively destabilize the networks we fight.
We cannot continue this huge ground war in Afghanistan. There will be no victory. The sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can stop lying to ourselves and continuing this delusional conflict.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan does not equal abandonment of Afghanistan or of our responsibilities there. We will undoubtedly do all we can to support democratization in the country and region for years to come, but we do not need to involve ourselves in ground wars that are outside of our budget. It’s time to rein ourselves in.
Most of the American people have already rejected the war in Afghanistan as no longer worth the immense costs. All we need now is for our government to agree.