Staff Columnist

After 18 years, a 'hasty' departure from Afghanistan

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard at the gate of an army base after a suicide blast in Khost province, Afghanistan November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers stand guard at the gate of an army base after a suicide blast in Khost province, Afghanistan November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Eighteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan drags on. Increasingly, the people involved in the conflict don’t understand why it started.

Americans who were born before the terrorist attacks can now enlist to fight in the military. Next year, they and millions more who are too young to remember that historic tragedy will be eligible to vote for a commander-in-chief.

As Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, an Afghanistan veteran, said during a debate this summer, “We’re pretty close to the day when we will wake up to the news of a casualty in Afghanistan who was not born on 9/11.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the globe, the vast majority of Afghan citizens have even less direct knowledge of the events precipitating the war.

Fewer than 10 percent of Afghan men were aware of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a 2010 study by the International Council on Security Development. Surely, that figure has not grown in almost a decade since the survey was conducted.

Some Afghans quoted in news reports say the terrorist attacks were a conspiracy. Their homeland has been ravaged by violence as long as anyone can remember, and they see the American presence as a continuation of outside intervention.

If the American goal is to change the hearts and minds in Afghanistan, to demonstrate to the people the value of western liberalism, we have miserably failed. Through no fault of their own, the innocent people of one of the world’s poorest countries don’t even understand why we are there.

Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history, claiming the lives of more than 2,300 U.S. servicepeople, including at least 31 Iowans. By one estimate, more than 240,000 civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been killed by the war.

Money seems like a trivial consideration compared to human lives, but it must be noted that the federal government’s spending in Afghanistan since 2001 is nearing $1 trillion.

Despite these clear signs of failure, some Americans insist on enduring an unwinnable war.

Last week, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he was canceling a previously undisclosed meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David. The meeting that never happened was quickly panned by some members of both major political parties, who insist the U.S. military must stay the course and secure some ill-defined sense of stability in the country we have infected with so much chaos.

Surely, there are reasonable criticisms of Trump’s fickle foreign policy instincts, and the way his administration has managed international negotiations. However, the knee-jerk reaction against any engagement with enemy leaders is dangerously wrong.

The Afghanistan War started with a noble mission — to defeat the criminals who supported the Sept. 11 attacks. Most of them are dead or captured, but the war carries on nonetheless.

A Washington Post staff editorial last month chided Trump for his desire to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by next year. The authors argued “there is little reason to abandon the country in haste.

After nearly two decades of battle, what hasty exit could there be? It’s past time to end the war.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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