General Stanley McChrystal recently requested an additional 45,000 troops for Afghanistan, on top of the 21,000 additional troops sent earlier this year. If honored, this request would bring the total number of troops stationed in Afghanistan to approximately 100,000. Even that large number would be less than what the non-public portion of the McChrystal report states as necessary to "win" the war -- 500,000 troops.
The earlier surge of troops increased the intensity of the conflict. July and August 2009 brought the two highest monthly total of American casualties since the invasion began on October 7, 2001. While this increase in violence is not surprising, it is a troubling sign of a rapidly deteriorating situation. Military experts and think tanks like the RAND Corporation agree -- there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict. According to a 2008 RAND Corporation study, only 7% of terrorist organizations give up violent activities due to military defeat.
McChrystal's request comes as Afghans and Americans observe the beginning of the 9th year of U.S. presence in Afghanistan. It comes at a time when 54% of Americans polled oppose the war and want our troops brought home. This represents a major shift in public opinion since the invasion took place in October 2001. Part of the credit for this change can be attributed to the tireless efforts of the peace movement to provide the public with accurate information on what has been happening in Afghanistan over the past 8 years. The increase in American casualties and the increasing difficulty to envision what a "win" in Afghanistan looks like have also largely contributed to disenchantment with the ongoing war.
Unfortunately the benefits of unseating the Taliban in November 2001 have been offset by what has happened since. U.S. presence in Afghanistan has had limited positive impact on the lives of the majority of Afghan people. Billions of dollars have been spent on security and military operations, $100 million daily. The troop surge will cost $5.5 billion for fiscal year 2009 alone.
Think of how that money could have been used to address the real problems faced by Afghans today:
" Eighty-seven percent of Afghans have no access to clean water.
" Fifty-three percent of Afghans live below the government's poverty line.
" Forty to eighty percent are unemployed.
" Seventy percent of the population is undernourished.
" Infant mortality is the third highest in the world.
" The mother mortality rate is the highest in the world.
" More than a quarter of Afghan children die before the age of 5.
" Life expectancy for women is just over 43 years, while life expectancy for men is just under 43.
" Literacy rate for men is 35% and for women, anywhere from 10% - 20%.
" Women and girls still risk their lives in some places when attending school. The progress promised Afghan women remains just a promise.
" U.S. presence in Afghanistan
has resulted in 2,000-8,000 direct deaths of Afghan civilians and approximately
20,000 indirect deaths; 3.7 million refugees still live in neighboring
All these problems cry out for a solution, this after 8 years of U.S. occupation preceded by more than two decades of war. Clearly the Afghan people need something other than continued war and occupation.
This is a critical moment in the fight to end the occupation of Afghanistan and bring the troops home. President Obama has admitted to feeling caught between General McChrystal's request and the growing displeasure of the American people. Congress is poised to pass a $625.8 billion 2010 Military Budget, including $128.2 billion to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraqthrough September 2010.
United for Peace and Justice, CodePINK, Peace Action, and others have designated September 30th as a national call-in day to oppose the 2010 Military Budget. Instead of rubber-stamping this request, the groups will ask Congress to support HR 2404, Rep. McGovern's bill, requiring the administration to submit an exit strategy for Afghanistan by December 31, 2009. For that exit strategy to be real, it needs to be based on all-party talks, regional diplomacy, unconditional humanitarian aid directed and led by the Afghan people, economic assistance and timelines for the near-term withdrawal of American and NATO combat troops and private military contractors.
That will be our message throughout October, a month which will be filled with actions against the war, both locally and in Washington, D.C. Here in New Jersey, NJ Peace Action plans a week of action from October 5th through October 9th. Vigils on October 7th will mark the solemn occasion of the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan .
A House Party in Hackensack on October 8th will feature a showing of Rethinking Afghanistan and letters will be written and signed at these events. Other educational and lobbying events will take place through October 17th.
This is the time when those who object to the excessive human and financial costs of the continued occupation of Afghanistan must make their voices heard--calling for a surge NOT in troops, but in diplomacy and for the Afghan people to reclaim their home as U.S.troops return to theirs.
Written by Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director of NJ Peace Action, 673 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, New Jersey 07003; firstname.lastname@example.org; (973)259-1126. As NJ Peace Action Executive Director, Ms. Hoffman traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange in June 2005. She has given dozens of presentations on her experiences since her return. Ms. Hoffman is also a co-convenor of United for Peace and Justice's Afghanistan Working Group.