There is no rational reason for us to be in Afghanistan. Our original goals were to end the government of the Taliban which had given Osama bin Laden a base from which he could launch worldwide terrorist attacks and commit his greatest horror and catastrophe: the blowing up of the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the killing of near 3,000 innocent civilians.
As a result of the valor of our troops and the ability of the U.S. military leadership, we have driven the Taliban from its former role in the government of Afghanistan and not long ago, our special forces in a heroic and masterful raid into Pakistan, killed Osama bin Laden in his hideaway which was probably known to Pakistan’s government authorities and in effect concealed and protected by the Pakistani government.
So why do we remain when doing so causes the Afghan people to hate us more with the passing of each day, calling us occupiers, infidels and murderers? The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is thought to be corrupt by many American observers. His brother is alleged to be an infamous drug lord and when the American military sought to stop corruption which exists on a massive scale in Afghanistan and in large part involves the stealing of the billions of dollars the U.S. has poured into that country to build infrastructure, the Karzai government has sought to impede the investigation of the U.S. anti-corruption unit known as the Major Crimes Task Force. The New York Times of March 18th reported, “When an aide to Mr. Karzai was arrested by an American-backed corruption task force, the president intervened to secure his release, and then eviscerated the anticorruption body of the Major Crimes Task Force.”
In President Karzai we do not have a true ally. When the incident occurred involving the burning of four Korans by American soldiers ordered to destroy books taken from a prison library where the inmates had used the Korans and other books to send messages by writing them within the book pages – and the apparent innocent mistake was made of burning the books instead of burying them in the ground as the Afghans would have done to get rid of a holy book – President Karzai inflamed his people. According to The Times of March 18th, Karzai stated, “The Americans in Afghanistan are ‘demons.’ They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were ‘Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.’”
When the American sergeant engaged in the deranged act of killing 16 Afghans, men, women and children, for which both President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have profusely apologized, President Karzai’s response was not to quiet the tensions, but to exaggerate them. He told his people, according to The Times “The massacre of 16 Afghan children, women and men by an American soldier ‘was not the first incident, indeed it was the 100th, the 200th and 500th incident.’”
The Afghan people have in their riots since these two incidents killed 29 Afghans and 6 Americans. The killing of Americans by Afghan military personnel is now quite common. According to a Reuters news report of March 1st, “ About 70 members of the NATO-led force were killed in 42 insider attacks from May 2007 through the end of January this year.” Generally, the Americans were at the time of their deaths involved in training Afghan soldiers with the goal being to have the Afghan soldiers take over the role now being played by American soldiers in securing the country and its borders by 2014. The latter date is the announced date (at the end of the year) when American forces would be substantially evacuated or vastly reduced.
However, the American military have made clear that it wants to remain on in Afghanistan indefinitely but needs, of course, permission of the Afghan government to do that. Karzai has now said he would rather have the date of Afghan troop takeover of all security functions moved up to no later than 2013. My hope is that we have the Afghans take over security by the end of 2012 and start moving American personnel out immediately.
A question raised time and again by many is, how is it that American troops were given 17 weeks of basic training and then sent into combat in World War II against both Japanese and German troops, and the Afghan army trained by the American military for near 10 years is still not ready to defend its own country? Yet, the Taliban troops using Afghan personnel has had major military successes. One answer given is that the Taliban, cruel as it is, is not corrupt and therefore commands allegiance, while the Karzai soldiers know their leadership is scamming the country.
Why do our government and military leaders urge our continued remaining in Afghanistan, instead of doing voluntarily what we were forced to do by the Iraqi government: quit the country and allow both countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, to defend themselves and run their own governments? We cannot make them accept Western mores, particularly as they apply to the rights of women to equality with their male counterparts. We cannot be the policeman of the world. Many believe that ultimately Iraq will disintegrate into chaos with three separate entities and governments: Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. Also that the Afghans will welcome back the Taliban and that Karzai will bring them into his government and they will ultimately be in charge once again.
Those same observers also say that when we leave, Afghanistan will become a province of either Iran or Pakistan. Perhaps it will. But remember, the Afghan people drove the Soviet Union’s soldiers from the country and before them, the British. Also, I believe Alexander the Great ultimately left Afghanistan. Further, we have been saddled with the longest war in our history fighting in Afghanistan, and what do we have for it? We have suffered since 2001, 1,750 deaths and 15,322 injuries.
Some foolishly say in defense of remaining to 2014 and beyond that to “cut and run” (after 10 years) will only endanger us with Afghanistan being used as a base for terrorism. The State Department has identified 62 countries where al-Qaeda is located. Many of those countries are far more advanced in technology than is Afghanistan. Also, have we forgotten the advice of former Secretary of Defense Gates who said on February 24, 2011, “Any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa ‘should have his head examined,’ as General McArthur so delicately put it.”
Norman Mailer once asked the question, “Why are we in Vietnam?” shortly before we evacuated. Others are now asking, “Why are we still in Afghanistan?”
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served as a member of member of Congress from New York State from 1969 through 1977, and New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.