Out of Afghanistan


President Obama is conducting a “strategic assessment” of the Afghanistan war. He is expected to announce his conclusions in late October. He is right to take his time.

With an uptick in U.S. and NATO casualties, what appears to be increased Taliban momentum, the problematic Afghan elections, and continued chaos and violence, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and other U.S. military leaders are pressing for more troops.

There is talk of anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 more U.S. troops “needed” – some project even more – on top of the approximately 68,000 already slated to be deployed by the end of this year.

McChrystal is reportedly warning that the U.S. risks “failure” if more troops are not sent.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, bemoaning declining public support for the war, suggests that Obama ask Americans to “endure years of sacrifice” to pursue the military campaign.

Obama faces tough decisions. If he decides to buck the generals, and then something catastrophic happens in Afghanistan, it could jeopardize the vital Democratic congressional majority, especially the hair-thin Senate margin, in next fall’s midterm elections. And what happens in Afghanistan could spill over into neighboring nuclear-armed Pakistan.

All this, of course, is the legacy of viciously misguided U.S. Cold War policies in the region.

If there is one lesson that a wide swath of political and military experts have drawn from that history, and from the Vietnam War disaster, it is that there is no military solution to such conflicts. Continuing to pour in troops and military hardware, and dressing it up with “new” old strategies like “counterinsurgency,” leads to nothing good, either for the U.S. or for the people supposedly being “defended.”

That awareness is reflected in the growing chorus of voices in Congress calling for a clear exit strategy and timeline for getting us out of Afghanistan.

“With every bomb dropped and every civilian and military death,” says the United for Peace and Justice coalition, “we are no closer to helping the Afghan people and the region to grapple with their problems. In fact, the U.S. presence is the biggest obstacle to doing so.”

Oct. 7 – the anniversary of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan – is an opportunity to organize and join in teach-ins, vigils, rallies, phone call and letter writing campaigns and delegations to congressional offices pressing for a halt to eight years of death and dying in Afghanistan.