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Escalation in Afghanistan: A Really Bad Idea

By       Message Stephen Unger     Permalink
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The war in Afghanistan is heating up. Casualties among Afghanis, NATO troops, and American troops are rising. After seven years of the US intervention, no end is in sight. Rather, the outgoing and incoming US Presidents have agreed that more US troops should be sent there. (Recent reports indicate plans to increase US forces from 32,000 to 52,000 troops. There are also about 40,000 NATO soldiers there.)

Why are we there? The initial reason was to avenge the 9/11 atrocity, which was apparently supported by forces based in Afghanistan. Capturing Osama bin Laden and wiping out al-Qaeda was the concrete goal. This soon morphed into the objective of toppling the Taliban government, since they were said to have hosted al-Qaeda. The Taliban regime was indeed overthrown, but bin Laden and al-Qaeda escaped to Pakistan. Additional objectives were mentioned at various times, including securing women's rights in Afghanistan, democratizing and stabilizing that country, and eliminating it as a source of opiates. The only clear success has been the ousting of the Taliban government.

But, in recent years, during which the US supported Karzai government has been unable to establish itself in large parts of the country, the Taliban has rallied to become a strong contender for national power. The position of women has reverted to that existing prior to the reign of the Soviet-backed government, the one under which they were best treated.

Ironically, while ruling the country, the Taliban had reduced opium production to a small fraction of its previous amount, but, as an anti-government force, it derives much of its financial resources from a large increase in the drug trade, which is also encouraged by corrupt officials of the current regime. In effect, the Taliban is largely financed by drug sales in the US. Afghanistan now accounts for about 90% of world heroin production.

Clearly there are a lot of Afghans who do not want US troops in their country. Consider that Afghanistan is considerably larger than Iraq, that its terrain is unusually rugged, that it is more populous than Iraq, and that it has a long history of fighting off invaders, including the British when their empire was at its peak. The Soviet Union, failing to learn from the US experience in Vietnam, blundered into the nine-year Soviet-Afghan War, which turned out to be an important factor in their demise. How long would it take for US and NATO forces to "win" in Afghanistan, and exactly what would constitute victory?

Since bin Laden and al-Qaeda no longer reside in Afghanistan, what is the justification for continuing the US military intervention in that country? Are we there for the benefit of the Afghans? If so, just which Afghans are we helping? Why are we sacrificing young Americans to help this group? Consider how many other countries there are with dysfunctional governments that abuse various subgroups of their populations. How many of them are going to be recipients of US aid delivered at gunpoint? Since the Taliban is receiving help from across the Pakistani border and US forces have already attacked such helpers in Pakistan, are we going to get into a war with Pakistan as well?

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I suggest that, rather than escalate our involvement in Afghanistan, while slowly reducing our forces in Iraq, we withdraw our military forces promptly and completely from both countries, and offer them economic aid to be administered by the UN.


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I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical (more...)

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