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the war (read "blunder") in afghanistan

December 3, 2009

Listening to President Obama explain how he’s going to fulfill his promise to win the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 additional troops reignited my political activism. I couldn’t disagree more with the decision to send in more combat troops to support one of the most corrupt governments in the world, nor do I see how escalating the war in a country that’s practically stuck in the stone age will make us any safer from global terrorism.

First of all, we can’t simply occupy every unstable country with ties to al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. What about Somalia, for example? Or the border regions of Pakistan? Should we invade them too? And what about stable countries who’re openly hostile to the U.S., or at the very least, harbour extremist groups who are? Military might alone can’t win a war of ideology.

Secondly, while I can appreciate the argument that just pulling out of Afghanistan now will allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda to once again turn Afghanistan into safe haven for terrorism, what has our occupation achieved in the last 8 years? We’ve failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, we’ve pushed the Taliban and al-Qaeda into Pakistan, further destabilizing it, and we’re arguably escalating a decades long civil war with our support of what’s widely seen as a fraudulent government.

As Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, has repeatedly pointed out, the tribal warlords and drug lords in parliament are one of the main problems facing Afghanistan. Add to that crushing poverty and you have a situation that no amount of foreign troops can solve, especially in a region where foreign invasions are commonplace. I’d love to go into all the instances where we’ve created bigger problem with our meddling (e.g., Project FUBELT, Operation Ajax, Operation Cyclone, etc.), but the bottom line is that we should be helping to rebuild their society instead of supporting a corrupt government and expecting them to do it for us.

My thoughts about this are summed up best by a friend of mine who said:

But as to the current troop surge, my point is that until we start to address the essential criminal nature of the regime there, we can’t “win”. But I suppose that depends on what winning is. Right now I don’t think we are on the way to a stable [Afghanistan] with a thriving civil society where there are schools and opportunities to build a life, make art fall in love, raise a family: to make dreams come true.

The type of “win” we’d both like to see, which is ultimately what I think Obama’s pushing for, is a stable and thriving Afghanistan; but like my friend, I don’t think the current troop surge is the best way to achieve this goal. For whatever reason, Obama seems to be ignoring the real problems, as well as their solutions.

It can’t be denied that Afghanistan played a major role by harbouring Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda’s leadership, as well as terrorist training camps, but is war really the solution? War might be able to bring about the necessary changes we’d like to see in Afghanistan, but let’s be honest, positive change rarely comes from the barrel of a gun.

Al-Qaeda itself is an extremely mobile group of individuals and cells scattered throughout the world. Those who weren’t already captured or killed in Afghanistan at the beginning of the war are thought to have fled to Pakistan or other neighboring countries and are still free to spread more of their brand of terror. On top of that, most of the resistance we’re currently facing is from insurgents recruited (or conscripted) by the Taliban to defend Afghanistan from foreign invasion and occupation, not al-Qaeda. Many of these people are young, poor and often illiterate, and they see themselves as defending their homeland from yet another foreign invasion by non-Muslims (i.e., the Brits, the Russians and now us).

Although I think the Taliban themselves are a horrible, disgusting bunch (especially their views toward women), I can sympathize with the average Afghan who (deludedly) joins them to defend their country and their faith. That’s part of the reason I think we need a different strategy. The more we fight, the more we’re going to potentially radicalize the local population. I think building roads, schools and other infrastructure will do more to win them over than what we’ve been doing so far, but most of our resources are still going to counterinsurgency missions, often with innocent Afghans caught in the middle.

The way I see it, sending in more combat troops means a lot more good men and women are going to die for no good reason. When it comes to the “War on Terror” and fighting al-Qaeda, I think we should be focusing on intelligence gathering to find them and disrupt their plots, nation-building to prevent places like Afghanistan from becoming havens for terrorism and specialized strikes, in collaboration with local governments when possible, to neutralize imminent threats to our security, not this gigantic military blunder.

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One Comment
  1. A comment I received on My Oregon:

    “You are right. The UK, USSR (with 600,00 troops) and now us have ever been able to control Afghanistan. The only problem I have with your letter is that it is too long.”

    I get that a lot.

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