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The 1000th Death in Afghanistan: There Must Be a Better Way!

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As of February 23, 2010, a grim milestone was reached in Afghanistan. The 1000th member of the U.S. military was killed. On March 19th, 2010, the world will mark the 7th anniversary of the U. S. invasion of Iraq.

Despite a 10% unemployment rate and a record $1.4 trillion deficit President Obama is expected to ask Congress this spring for an additional $33 billion on top of a record $708 billion defense budget for 2011 to continue fighting both wars.

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Add these two figures together and you get nearly three quarters of one trillion dollars spent on the wars. In the 2008 book titled The Three Trillion Dollar War, noted economist Joseph Siglitz and Linda Bilmes examine the true costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and predict that when military operations cease, the wars will have cost three trillion dollars - a figure at once both staggering and obviously conservative.

What expenses will the $33 billion supplemental cover? It will fund the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan. It will also pay for the expanded use of pilotless drones used for surveillance and attack missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan by speeding up the purchase of new Reaper drones and expanding Predator and Reaper drone flights through 2013. The rationale for this strategy articulated by the Obama administration is that more troops and more drones will stabilize Afghanistan and allow U. S. troops to be brought home.

Will this work? Will the escalation stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan and allow a withdrawal of U.S. troops? The Bloomfield based NJ Peace Action answers emphatically no.

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As Pakistan is destabilized, tensions between India and Pakistan will rise. Since both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, it is risky to inflame tensions in the region. In May 2010, delegates from countries all over the world will gather at the United Nations to assess the progress made toward global nuclear disarmament at the 5-year review conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But until genuine progress is made, terrible risks remain.

Of the 2,412 Afghan civilians killed last year, a recent UN report attributed 25% to the U.S. led coalition and Afghan security forces; 359 civilians were killed in aerial attacks, or 61 percent of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces.

US Marine Corps Veteran, Sgt. Devon stated: "Further troops in Afghanistan is going to escalate the violence, it's going to escalate the Taliban recruiting effort and its certainly not going to create a better situation."

The very drone attacks to be expanded with the additional money have killed hundreds of civilians in 2008 alone, are widely condemned across the spectrum of Pakistani society, and believed to increase militancy by fanning anti-American sentiment and anger at Pakistan's government.

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According to Imran Khan, Pakistan politician and Chairman of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) Party: "To win a war against terrorism, the people amongst whom the terrorists are operating must think they are terrorists." Drone attacks on civilians and the presence of foreign troops increase the appeal of the militants, as Khan says: "unless NATO forces withdraw, there can be no chance of peace - because everyone (from) Alexander to the British to the Soviets; whenever anyone has invaded the Pushtuns they have fought them with full force - someone else attacks them and then they unite against the invader - this is Pushtun nationalism."

Greg Mortenson, who for 17 years has been building and running hundreds of schools, mainly for girls, in Northwestern Pakistan and Afghanistan, including in Taliban-controlled areas, is skeptical of a troop surge that was decided upon without public debate and congressional hearings in the United States or any consultation with local Afghan Shuras or councils of elders. In his experience, these are the "real people with integrity and power in Afghanistan." Mortenson believes the alternative, engaging Afghans in a dialogue at the local, regional or domestic level is more sustainable. "I think half of diplomacy is just showing up," Mortenson told Bill Moyers, "you have to start to talk and then maybe we can get somewhere."

U.N. investigator Philip Alston - who has called on the United States to reveal who was being targeted in the drone attacks in Pakistan and list the casualties - said, "The whole program is so secretive that we have very little information to evaluate whether the United States is honoring its obligations under the Geneva convention," citing requirements to target only combatants and avoid civilian casualties and other rules of war under international law.

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Madelyn Hoffman is the Executive Director of NJ Peace Action, based in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She has held that position since August 2000. Madelyn Hoffman traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange in June 2005 and has given dozens of (more...)

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