After eight years of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, isn’t it time we start thinking about the downsizing of our efforts there?
President Obama will decide soon whether he should accept the recommendation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and increase U.S. troop strength by 40,000 more troops.
The president should choose another option, one that begins the process of downsizing, not increasing, the U.S. commitment there.
Last week, I was chatting by phone with my friend Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus.
Like me, Howard thinks that increasing troop levels in Afghanistan would not be smart. He referred me to a recent article in the liberal Nation magazine entitled “An Open Letter to President Obama” by William Polk, which Howard said thoughtfully lays out the argument against a military buildup in Afghanistan.
Obama should be applauded for staking out a strong position against al-Qaida and pushing to wipe out its bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But that worthy goal should be achievable without the significant loss of U.S. blood and treasure.
Any discussion about why we are in Afghanistan, or for that matter, Iraq, should begin with Sept. 11.
On that day of infamy, 19 foreign-born terrorists engaged in mass slaughter, taking down the Twin Towers and directly attacking the Pentagon.
At the time, al-Qaida and its mastermind, Osama bin Laden, were holed up in Afghanistan with the protective backing of the Taliban, the radical Muslim group then ruling the country.
President Bush moved aggressively, with NATO backing, to invade Afghanistan just a month after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban were removed and pro-Western regime was installed in Kabul. Job well done.
For a long period, the U.S. had fewer than 10,000 troops there. But the Taliban has become resurgent, taking control of large swaths of the mountainous country. In the past year, U.S. troop levels have spiked to more than 30,000 troops. Now, the Pentagon wants to increase that force strength by more than 100 percent.
Eight years after our invasion, the United States is spending $3 billion a month for the Afghan war. This figure will double if McChrystal gets his wish.
The direct costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now total close to $1 trillion.
It is important to remember that casus belli of these wars were the events of Sept. 11, a terrorist operation that was estimated to cost bin Laden and his crew about $250,000.
This terror operation is a classic example of “asymmetrical” warfare. Using unconventional means, a small group with limited resources confounds its adversary and forces them to spend huge amounts of money in a conventional war response.
Since 9/11, the U.S. response has been extremely costly.
It is also true that the U.S. has not been hit from a terror attack on its homeland since 9/11.
Since no evidence has ever emerged that al-Qaida operated from Iraq, it is also fair to say the United States' much smaller, and less conventional, war approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan has contributed the most to our safety over the past eight years.
Personally, I like the plan pushed by Vice President Joe Biden that involves the U.S. keeping a smaller force in Afghanistan and focusing it on counter-terrorism.
According to The New York Times, Biden’s plan ignores the Taliban and uses U.S. forces to “concentrate on strikes against al-Qaida cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.”
Biden has argued, quite rightly, that al-Qaida is festering in remote areas of Pakistan as the U.S. wages war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It is difficult to believe that the United States can ever tame Afghanistan. It is called the “graveyard of empires” for a reason.
William Polk, writing in the Nation, explains that, though the Soviet Union poured huge resources into the country, it was rebuffed by the mujahedeen’s successful use of asymmetrical warfare against it. As Polk argues, if the Soviets, with their use of brute force tactics, couldn’t subdue Afghanistan, the U.S. most certainly will not.
Supporters of Gen. McChrystal liken his new plan to a “surge” just like the one in Iraq, which has been touted as a success.
Indeed, the surge has worked in Iraq, with U.S. troop strength increasing dramatically and the number of attacks against U.S. forces dropping by more than 80 percent. But the long-term impact of the surge won’t be known until the United States removes most of its troops from Iraq, which President Obama promises to do by the end of 2010.
Several Mideast experts are predicting that a civil war will erupt as the U.S. draws down its troop levels, now at about 125,000 boots on the ground. My hunch is that, as the U.S. draws down, sectarian violence will grow once again.
So, the question to ask is not whether a “surge” of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will help the Karzai government — it most certainly will — but to ask what will happen when U.S. troops in Afghanistan eventually exit.
It is doubtful that increasing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan will change that country permanently, nor will it stabilize Iraq.
With limited resources, we should continue focusing on our fight with al-Qaida. We also should continue to look at the big picture and realize that Iran poses today the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the Mideast. Getting bogged down in an Afghan quagmire won’t improve our security.
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