One June 24, 2011, President Barack Obama told our nation of his plans for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. He told us, “We will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 by next summer.” He went on to say, concerning the approximately 70,000 troops remaining that “By 2014, this process of transition [from combat to support] will be complete and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” A few days before, on June 19th, in Afghanistan, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl W. Eikenberry delivered his farewell address at Herat University and later, responding to questions, extemporaneously added to his formal remarks, stating:
“And – as we prepare to return home to my family after my most recent two years here – I must tell you that I find occasional comments from some of your leaders hurtful and inappropriate. When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost – in terms of lives and treasure – hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people … they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here.
Mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, spouses of soldiers who have lost arms and legs, children of those who lost their lives in your country – they ask themselves about the meaning of their loved one’s sacrifice. “When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look at these mourning parents, spouses, and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply…We have built schools and clinics; trained and equipped your army, police, and NDS and fought and sacrificed with them battling the enemy of your state; we have constructed roads and power stations; trained midwives, engineers, and journalists; offered scholarships to my country; helped organize and advise your counter-narcotics police, judicial security units, and elite Major Crimes Task Force; improved your Customs Service; helped facilitate the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement; renovated the Herat Citadel and many historical sites in Afghanistan; installed a world class Air Traffic Control radar at Kabul International Airport; invested hundreds of millions of dollars in bettering your agriculture system; helped renovate the Kabul museum; supported the revival of music, sports, and culture in your country; constructed roads –even while being attacked by insurgents. I could go on, but will stop here.
“Yet, when we hear ourselves being called occupiers and worse, our pride is offended and we begin to lose our inspiration to carry on. Let me be clear – America has never sought to occupy any nation in the world. Nor do we seek to do so here. In fact, we serve here as friends. At the point your leaders believe that we are doing more harm than good, when we reach a point that we feel our soldiers and civilians are being asked to sacrifice without a just cause, and our generous aid programs dismissed as totally ineffective and the source of all corruption . . . especially at a time our economy is suffering and our needs are not being met, the American people will ask for our forces to come home.
“I would ask, as the outgoing Ambassador, that your leaders please bear this in mind when they speak of my nation, my armed forces, and my people, as well as those others who also are making contributions to and sacrifices for your country.” I apologize for quoting such a lengthy statement in my commentary, but I believe Ambassador Eikenberry deserves to be heard. He is absolutely right. The American public is fed up with the attacks made upon the U.S. by the Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Our soldiers have paid an awful price in terms of deaths and injuries in defending Afghanistan, let alone the hundreds of billions spent in rebuilding that country, much of it skimmed off by the corrupt leaders of the Afghan government, sent abroad to their bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere. Those Afghan leaders are asking the Taliban leaders and followers to foreswear violence and join their fellow citizens in rebuilding their country. Indeed, the U.S. is offering millions to the insurgents to drop their arms and reconcile.
Let’s assume that happens. The probability is they will take the money and remain insurgents. Who will prevail in a free election? The Taliban, which supports Sharia and a fanatical Islamic government with the elimination of corruption, or the Karzai government, which so many media observers have labeled as corrupt, with the Karzai family deeply involved in the illegal business of controlling the drug trade? I have no doubt that the result will be the same as that which took place in Gaza when Hamas, a fanatical and terrorist group—but fiercely devoted to ending the corruption of Fatah, its rival in the election—won the election hands down. So it will be in Afghanistan, when and if we leave in 2014.
There are those in the U.S. government and military who, if they could, would remain on in Afghanistan and Iraq permanently, so that we would have military bases when dealing with Pakistan and Iran. Mr. President, I believe the deaths and injuries of our young soldiers that will take place between now and 2014 are simply too much to bear and our suffering and money expenditures will be all for naught.
To date, in Afghanistan, we have suffered the deaths of 1,637 soldiers and 11,191 injured. In Iraq, we have suffered the deaths of 4,463 and 31,827 injured. Also, in Afghanistan, we are spending on the war $2 billion a week. The war in Afghanistan has gone on for ten years. The war in Iraq has gone on for eight. Enough. President Obama in 2011 should be unable, as Ambassador Eikenberry stated referring to the comments of Afghan leaders – read Karzai – to “look at these mourning parents, spouses and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply.” Mr. President, why are you waiting? We are going to leave anyway. Bring our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq home. All of them. Now.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.