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Why Are We Still in Afghanistan?

November 15, 2018

By Joseph D. Meehan

Special to The Sun

There are times when you read something in the news that ignites anger, frustration and makes you wonder why things go on the way they do. The Sun’s editorial of Nov. 6, 2018 addresses the responsibility our U.S. Congress has to begin discussions on whether our military is having an impact on ending the war in Afghanistan as well as establishing a plan to end our involvement in this 17-year war.

In the Boston Globe’s Nov. 20, 2018 edition, there was an article on a summit meeting in Moscow hosted by the Russians, including representatives from the Taliban and a delegation of members from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. The meeting’s purpose as explained by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov was to work for a united and peaceful Afghanistan with regional partners and friends to facilitate the start of constructive intra-Afghan dialogue.

The article describes the meeting as “jovial and almost festive” with waving and winking at familiar faces. It gave details of a Taliban statement laying out its demands for a peace process that excluded the presence of U.S. and other foreign military forces.

Forty-years ago, Russia invaded Afghanistan, spending a disastrous 10 years fighting the Afghan Mujahideen, finally leaving in defeat with 15,000 Russian troops killed and a cost to the Soviet economy estimated to run into the billions. The West referred to it as “Russia’s Vietnam.”

In convening this summit Russia hopes to enhance its image worldwide, by attempting to broker a peace deal that in all probability will be a failure. Nevertheless, if Russia thinks it can be accomplished, maybe we can start extricating ourselves from this 17-year involvement in Afghanistan.

The purpose of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 was to destroy Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. The plan laid out by our military and CIA ground forces had him targeted in the mountains of Tora Bora. However, it was not to be, because the political decisions made by President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed bin Laden to walk unimpeded into Pakistan, where he remained hidden for the next 12 years. This was described by U.S. Sen. John Kerry in a Nov. 30, 2009 report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations -- which Kerry chaired -- entitled “Tora Bora Revisited: How We failed To Get Bin Laden.”

As a result, we still find ourselves enmeshed in an on-going 17-year war in Afghanistan. According to the Defense Department, from 2001 to July 2018, there were a total of 2,305 U.S. military deaths including many military service personnel killed by the Taliban posing as Afghan commandos. In that same period, there were 20,320 American service members wounded, maimed or who suffered PTSBs.

Not only have we lost the precious blood and treasure of our American service men and women, it has cost and will cost the U.S. taxpayer trillions of dollars! According to Neta Crawford, a co-director of the Cost of Wars Project at Brown University, the war in Afghanistan is approaching $2 trillion, but fails to consider the future costs of interest Americans will owe for the money borrowed to finance the war that could add trillions of dollars to the total tab.

The question is why are we still there? Politically, it does not make any difference whether there is a Republican or Democrat sitting in the White House, the results are still the same.

When have you heard from any U.S. House or Senate members ask the administration, “What is the objective of the United States of America’s involvement in Afghanistan and how long are we going to be there?”

The issue of our involvement in Afghanistan and Vietnam was discussed by historian Andrew J. Bacevich in an article that appeared in the Aug. 11, 2017 edition of the American Conservative. The title of the article was “Yes Congress, Afghanistan is Your Vietnam.” One of the questions he raises was, “What more does the Congress need to reassert its constitutional prerogatives on matters related to war?” The question was prefaced by an opening statement that read, “A citizen might ask ...”

It is time for U.S. citizens to start demanding answers to our 17-year involvement in Afghanistan. The first is: What is the administration’s plan to end the war?

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