On Our Way Out?
Talk about bad timing and bad things happening. Last week's column about Koran burning and hyper-sensitive and hypocritical Muslims using the Koran as an excuse to attack Americans (and just about anyone else) seems silly when we talk this week about Afghani reaction to a deliberate murder of 15 civilians by an American soldier. That is something to protest. And, it may just be the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan campaign.
Not that mass killings are an anomaly there. Suicide bombers have been killing civilians for years. The rogue soldier killing, however, comes from a supposedly friendly, protective, and controlled institutional source: the U.S. armed forces. That the killer, an army sergeant, was a lone, probably combat stressed, mentally ill man is, for political purposes, irrelevant. Similarly, arguments that this is as random and unpreventable as recent shootings in America, means nothing. This is a foreign force, welcomed in many ways, but resented always, invading homes and killing civilians. Explaining it, yes; rationalizing it, no.
The irony is that our troops are already on the way out of this, the justifiable and right war (according to public opinion polls and the Obama administration as compared to the later Iraq war), that emanated from 9/11. The pull out was announced even as we increased the number (temporarily) of troops going in. This pull-out, however, was based on training an Afghanistan police/military force that can keep order in that country as well as non-governmental institutions for domestic stability. These were undermined by reaction to the Koran burning in which supposedly friendly, on-our-side-Afghanis shot soldiers and trainers. U.S. and NATO forces withdrew everyone to protected areas. In other words, both military and domestic missions have been compromised.
As a review, this mission began as a retaliation against the Taliban which, in September of 2011, ruled Afghanistan. They harbored Osama Bin Laden and supported his efforts to attack the United States and refused to turn him over to us. Our response was to go in and get him and throw out the Taliban, bring in a less radical, committed to democracy, regime. This was the popular military exercise compared to the Iraq invasion that took place two years later.
Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda friends took to the hills and to Pakistan , and we sought him out unsuccessfully. Some say we botched that, but we did topple the Taliban, whose fondness for public, by hand, beheadings of religious wrong-doers, was not too popular. We brought in an Afghan exile, Hamid Karzai, to head up a more inclusive government. Taliban insurgency, however, has increased with much help from neighboring Pakistan which is playing both sides rather well. Wide-spread corruption, tribal rivalries, and a not-so-effective and corrupt Karzai administration, a fear campaign by the Taliban, and complex religious and cultural resistance, has brought the war to a stalemate.
The question now remains about what to do. Do we simply walk out of Afghanistan and hope for the best? How many troops and non-combat, contract organizations, stay? Will they be allowed to stay? Can the Karzai government survive? Unlikely without our help. Will Afghanistan become, again, a haven and operating center for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates? If so, what can we and should we do about it? Will a civil war ensue? If we withdraw, will there be a mass exodus of westernized Afghanis and to where? The U.S.?
Do we stand back and throw bombs at training camps and make drone attacks on Al-Qaeda operatives? Do we threaten to annihilate whole populations and countries if they continue to threaten us? Do we rattle our atomic weapons at Pakistan? Do we isolate Pakistan and Afghanistan economically? Or, do we hang in there with a bit of this and a bit of that, and prevent any drastic negative changes and hope for positive, in-their-self-interest, changes?
My guess is that it will be the latter, because I'm not sure total extraction is possible in this inter-connected world. Oh, by the way, did I mention that we now have troops in central Africa? Should we be talking about it?