The US Abroad: How Long In Afghanistan?

Soldiers in the Kalagush PRT Team

Soldiers in the Kalagush PRT Team

We are currently in the middle of shifting our soldiers and strategic focus back to Afghanistan. What presence and control we continue in Iraq will be something only time will tell. People are calling this the new ‘surge’ but for those of us that follow these issues it seems like too little, too late as we have committed close to $700 billion dollars to Iraq since our invasion in 2003 and ‘only’ $200 billion to the conflict in Afghanistan since 2001. This doesn’t include the human cost which is incalculable. The question we have to ask ourselves now that a new rush of troops is on its way and our major efforts in Iraq wind down is: How much longer are we willing to spend in Afghanistan? What goals do we still have left to achieve there?

The Opinionator at the NYT had an excellent roundup of thoughts from around the internet about the case for increasing the troop levels and continuing the fight there. Alternatively, a short piece in the new Atlantic Ideas issue states that it is worth abandoning the fight there and supporting a decentralized government relying on tribal chiefs with “incentives to keep jihadists out.”

The troops leaving Iraq and headed to Afghanistan are not fresh faces to the battlefield but more than likely have been on at least two if not three tours to Iraq or Afghanistan previously. As I’ve mentioned in another piece, there is a long term cost that will have effects on the home front as well when continuing to place these soldiers in tour after tour. They may be experienced forces but given the nature of the terrain in that country and the weight of history against them, I think the balance is not tipped in their favor. We have had the film Charlie Wilson’s War preach to us that we did not do enough to help the Afghans after the Soviet withdrawal and leading somehow to 9/11; that may be true. Unfortunately, that was nearly twenty years ago and it’s hard to correct for such history now. Between such sentiments of guilt and our special brand of American gung-hoism and hubris, in which we want to prove that we will not be defeated like the British and Russians before, we have probably bit off more than we can chew and let our original mission creep away from what we had hoped for in 2001.

As pointed out in both articles and elsewhere, can we really afford to escalate and continue this war? Even during the beginning of the wars themselves we could not afford it, as attested to by soldiers and their families who had to raise money to uparmor their vehicles and purchase bulletproof vests. How will we afford a trillion dollar health care bill or other reforms at home if nearly the same is being spent abroad on wars that are little talked about in the media and unattached to the majority public at large?

One Comment

  1. We’ve sent $22 billion in MILITARY aid to Afghanistan since 2001 – how that is a good idea, I don’t know. Only $16 billion for economic development (how much of that has been siphoned or paid in bribes to warlords?).

    The problem has been a complete ignorance of the underlying factors that make Afghanistan attractive to groups seeking refuge from the secular world. Without true economic development, there will always be a war to be fought in Afghanistan.

    When the Taliban fell, we replaced the vacuum with a military occupation. Why didn’t we replace their presence with legitimate economic opportunity?