Category Archives: Afghanistan

More death, heartache at Fort Hood

forthood2014Americans again have Fort Hood on their minds and in their prayers after Wednesday’s shooting spree. The gunman, an Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness, killed three people and injured 16 others before committing suicide. Though the incident stirred fears of another terrorist attack like the 2009 one in which more than a dozen died, it now seems more like another indicator of the urgent need to deliver help and hope to those active-duty military and veterans suffering from depression and other serious mental illnesses. It’s sobering, too, to realize that the military deaths on American soil followed the first month in 11 years with no U.S. fatalities in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most Americans have not earned ‘war-weariness’

Eliot A. Cohen objects to the overuse of “war-weariness” to describe many Americans’ reluctance to see the U.S. military to engage in Syria. “The families of the fallen are entitled to war-weariness,” Cohen wrote. “So are those wounded in body or spirit, and their loved ones. The mother who has sent her son to war has a right to war-weariness, as does the father who prepares to send his daughter to battle again and again. But for the great mass of the American public, for their leaders and the elites who shape public opinion, ‘war-weariness’ is unearned cant, unworthy of a serious nation and dangerous in a violent world.”

Gains by Afghan, Iraqi women at risk

With U.S. forces out of Iraq and facing a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, the impressive gains made by women in both countries are at risk. There are attempts to roll back women’s representation in both governments, noted Charlotte Ponticelli, who visited The Eagle last week while in town to address the Wichita Committee on Foreign Relations. But Ponticelli, whose government posts over 23 years included that of senior coordinator for international women’s issues at the State Department, said education has been a game-changer and technology can safeguard and further the progress, especially now that 77 percent of Iraqis and 66 percent of Afghans have mobile phone access. The gains will be “as durable as the skills and education,” she predicted.

Pro-con on speeding up troop withdrawal

More than 60 percent of Americans want out of Afghanistan. Yet the war goes on, and even the White House plans for too slowly reducing the U.S. troop presence meet resistance from the Pentagon. U.S. commander Gen. George Allen was pushing just a few months ago to keep the current level of troops for another year. The military would also like to maintain a permanent presence of 6,000 to 15,000 troops. That is not going to happen, as the Afghan people don’t want foreign troops in their country. But the attempts to establish a permanent base of operations will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to war. We need to end this war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and elsewhere that are making Americans less secure and recruiting new enemies daily. Then we can focus on fixing our broken economy at home. – Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research

American soldiers should never be put in harm’s way unless it’s vital to our national interests. And if it’s a vital interest, they should stay until the mission is accomplished. To suggest that they can be withdrawn from a mission by an arbitrary date – regardless of progress made or lost – implies that the mission is not important, that they shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. Our armed forces don’t fight for the sake of fighting. And they don’t want to fight on a clock. They fight to serve our nation. And they would rather stay longer and do the job right than come home too soon. Rather than pick a date, the U.S. would do better to ensure that its interests are protected before it walks away. And it should commit to maintaining the forces and capabilities needed to secure its interests in the foreseeable future. – James Jay Carafano, Heritage Foundation

Thank you, veterans

Last week’s election was made possible by the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans. On this Veterans Day and every day, they deserve our gratitude and praise. In a commentary in the Opinion pages of the Sunday Eagle, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., notes with alarm that more veterans have died by suicide since 2001 than have been killed serving in Afghanistan, and that this year the Army is averaging one suicide per day. “No less concerning is the amount of time it takes for veterans to begin receiving the benefits they were promised for their service – from disability compensation and pension benefits to education benefits and health appointments,” Moran writes, restating his commitment to use his seat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to help them.

Many of the Marines’ critics OK with torture

Many Americans agree with global observers about the unbecoming conduct of the four Marines caught on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters. There is some important context to consider, though, not only of the long, scary and bloody war the men were fighting but of a broader confusing war on terrorism, noted author Sebastian Junger in the Washington Post: “The Internet and the news media are filled with self-important men and women referring to our enemies as animals that deserve little legal or moral consideration. We have sent enemy fighters to countries like Syria and Libya to be tortured by the very regimes that we have recently condemned for engaging in war crimes and torture. They have been tortured into confessing their crimes and then locked up indefinitely without trial because their confessions – achieved through torture – will not stand up in court. For the past 10 years, American children have absorbed these moral contradictions, and now they are fighting our wars. The video doesn’t surprise me, but it makes me incredibly sad – not just for them, but also for us. We may prosecute these men for desecrating the dead while maintaining that it is OK to torture the living.”

Follow Reagan’s lead and cut losses in Afghanistan

“I still believe our options in Afghanistan are: lose early, lose late, lose big or lose small. I vote for early and small,” wrote columnist Thomas Friedman. He believes that peace initiatives or struggles for good governance don’t work without ownership of the people. “No amount of U.S. troops kick-starting, cajoling or doling out money can make it work,” he said.  Friedman cited former President Reagan as someone who understood that you can’t force peace on others. After a suicide bomber killed 241 U.S. military personnel in Lebanon in 1983, “Reagan realized that he was in the middle of a civil war, with an undefined objective and an elusive enemy, whose defeat was not worth the sacrifice,” Friedman wrote. “So he cut his losses and just walked away.”

Public souring on war in Afghanistan, Obama’s role

A decline in public support for the war in Afghanistan is translating into less support for President Obama. Last month, nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed said that the war in Afghanistan was no longer worth fighting. Now, 49 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Obama’s management of the war, while 44 percent approve, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey. The last time this poll question was asked in January, 49 percent approved of Obama’s handling of the war and 41 percent disapproved.

U.S. still supporting corrupt regimes

“When one looks across the Arab world today at the stunning spontaneous democracy uprisings, it is impossible to not ask: What are we doing spending $110 billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are almost identical to the governments we’re applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?” wrote columnist Thomas Friedman. He acknowledged that the United States “can’t just walk out of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but Friedman argued that “our involvement in these two countries — 150,000 troops to confront al-Qaida — is totally out of proportion today with our interests and out of all sync with our values.”

Public soured on Afghanistan

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Nearly three-quarters of Americans say President Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, the deadline he set to begin pulling out some forces.

No more ground wars?

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said in a blunt speech to West Point cadets. He also called for the nation to reshape its budget to “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.” Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about Gates’ comment, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., seconded the need for a “new kind of warfare” but said sometimes “it does require U.S. military intervention,” pointing to Afghanistan.

Marines leading charge on a green revolution

oilfield“Unlike the Congress, which can be bought off by big oil and big coal, it is not so easy to tell the Marines that they can’t buy the solar power that could save lives,” columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about Marine Corps plans to use renewable energy as a way to avoid roadside bombings of fuel convoys. “I don’t know what the final outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan will be, but if we come out of these two wars with a Pentagon-led green revolution, I know they won’t be a total loss. Wars that were driven partly by our oil addiction end up forcing us to break our oil addiction? Wouldn’t that be interesting?”

With friends like Karzai, Pakistan . . .

karzaiAfghan President Hamid Karzai (in photo) complained during a meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and other officials that he now has three “main enemies” — the Taliban, the United States and the international community, the Washington Post reported. “If I had to choose sides today, I’d choose the Taliban,” Karzai fumed.
Meanwhile, two new classified intelligence reports say there is a limited chance of success in Afghanistan unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border, the New York Times reported. Currently, insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops.

Pro-con: Should U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan?

afghantroopsPolls show reduced public support for the Afghanistan war. President Obama’s commanders reportedly are telling him that the war is not going well. We were supposed to be fighting al-Qaida in Afghanistan, but now we are putting out peace feelers to the Taliban. If we do not need to be in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida, it is hard to understand why we are there. Our much-vaunted Kandahar operation has brought little stability in that sector of the country. And the supposed rationale for our involvement in Afghanistan is combating terrorism, but it may hurt more than it helps. Anger over our Afghanistan war has brought the “domestic terrorism” that has led to major arrests in this country. By any account, our Afghanistan war is counterproductive. If there is a case to be made for another American soldier dying in Afghanistan, I am waiting to hear it. — John B. Quigley, Ohio State University

President Obama has backed away from his 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Why the change of heart when polls show declining popular support for the war? Perhaps because, unlike most of the American public, the president is paying attention to our enemies. For example, NATO troops arrested Ahmed Sidiqi, a 36-year-old Afghan-German, in Kabul in July. Under questioning, he admitted meeting with a senior al-Qaida leader in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The purpose of that meeting: to be briefed on al-Qaida’s plan to make the streets of Europe run red. Without NATO boots on the ground, the plot against Europe might never have been uncovered. Without America’s military presence, the subsequent predator-drone strikes that wiped out more than half a dozen al-Qaida assets involved in the plot would have been impossible. The wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan are al-Qaida central. To quit the area before we’ve rooted out the terrorists would hand al-Qaida a propaganda victory of immeasurable value. Worse, it would cede them a sanctuary from which they could mount fresh strikes at the West with virtual immunity. — James Jay Carafano, Heritage Foundation

Worrying about Afghanistan

afghanistanTime in Afghanistan is convincing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that U.S. strategy isn’t working, and isn’t going to work. “We’re inadvertently financing our adversaries. We’re backing a corrupt government that drives people to the Taliban. And we’re more eager to rescue the Afghans than the Afghans are to be rescued,” he wrote. To illustrate his third point, he described hearing Afghans suggest that life was better under the Russians than under the Americans. A frustrated Kristof wrote: “The Soviet invasion helped destroy Afghanistan, while American troops these days try hard to be respectful and avoid civilian casualties — and most Afghans acknowledge the difference when they’re in a reasonable mood. But after nine years, many Afghans are sick of us. Some actually suggest that America is in league with Osama bin Laden to keep Afghanistan weak and divided.”

Administration deeply divided on Afghanistan

afghantroopsThe Obama administration was even more deeply divided on escalating the war in Afghanistan than has been previously reported, according to the new book, “Obama’s Wars,” by the journalist Bob Woodward. President Obama reportedly said that “I have two years with the public on this,” but several top officials, such as Richard Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, believed the military strategy would not work. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden is quoted as describing Holbrooke as “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met.” The book also reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking medication for manic depression, and that Obama said he had to have a deadline for withdrawing troops or else he would “lose the whole Democratic Party.”

With friends like Pakistan . . .

PakistanThough U.S. officials hailed Pakistan’s role in capturing a top Taliban leader last January, some analysts questioned at the time whether Pakistan’s real motive was to insert itself in peace negotiations between the Taliban and Afghanistan. That suspicion appears to be on target. Pakistani officials are now saying that they set out to capture the Taliban leader, and used the CIA to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that the leader had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the New York Times reported.

What would Ike think of wars?

ikeddayLamenting the record number of military suicides and the escalating violence in Afghanistan, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “have been conducted as if their leaders had been reading from a lunatic’s manual.” He noted how President Bush “took the unprecedented step of cutting taxes while waging the wars,” and President Obama “set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan without having any idea how that war might be going when the deadline arrives.” Herbert, who favors bringing U.S. troops home as soon as possible, wrote: “This is warfare as it might have been waged by Laurel and Hardy. Absent the bloodshed, it would be hilarious. I’d give a lot to hear Dwight Eisenhower comment on the way these wars have been conducted.”

What will happen when we leave Afghanistan?

Afghan Woman TimeA Time magazine cover photo of a young Afghan woman who had her nose and ears cut off by her husband has ignited debate about what might happen when the United States leaves Afghanistan. Some critics note that the violence happened while our troops were in Afghanistan, and they complain that the photo is being used as “emotional blackmail” to try to guilt America into not withdrawing troops. But the head of an organization that runs women’s shelters in Afghanistan told the New York Times, “People need to see this and know what the cost will be to abandon this country.”

No transforming insurgencies into security forces?

afghanistanAs Congress approved $59 billion in more war funding last week, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd marveled that all our dollars have yet to leverage cooperation and approval for our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And she puzzled over our difficulties in trying to transform local warriors into security forces. “Why can’t countries that produce fierce insurgencies produce good standing armies in a reasonable amount of time? Is it just that insurgencies can be more indiscriminate?” she asked.

Military leaks mostly old news

afghantroopsU.S. officials are concerned that the leak of 92,000 classified U.S. military reports on the Afghanistan war could hurt the war effort. But Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen contends that most of the information is old news. “We already knew that the war in Afghanistan was not going well,” he wrote. “We already knew . . . that Pakistan’s military spy service was aiding the Taliban (with friends like this . . .), and we already knew that Afghanistan’s army and police would be reformed and able to stand up to the Taliban some time around when pigs fly or Washington balances the budget. No need to wait by the phone.”

No easy exit from Afghanistan

US Iraq PetraeusIn a Washington Post commentary, author and former Post reporter Thomas Ricks explored why Afghanistan presents an even harder challenge for Gen. David Petraeus (in photo) than Iraq, noting “the two biggest problems the United States faces in Afghanistan are the Karzai government and the Pakistani government — and neither of those really can be addressed by military operations.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ricks was more blunt, suggesting Petraeus may lobby Obama to give Afghan President Hamid Karzai ultimatums (such as “You want to end up hanging from your heels from a streetlight in Kabul, keep it up, Karzai”) and warning “leave Afghanistan right now, and you’ll find us having to go after al-Qaida again and again there for decades.” Ricks also had the last word on the depressing subject of Afghanistan: “We are dealing with phenomena in the Middle East that’s going to be crucial to this country as long as we’re dependent on Middle East oil. So the best exit strategy I can think of is emphasize alternative fuels.”

Obama made right call on replacing general

mcchrystalPresident Obama made a tough but correct decision today in accepting the resignation of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal (in photo) as the top American commander in Afghanistan. As Obama noted, the disparaging remarks that McChrystal and his staff made in a Rolling Stone article about top administration officials undermined the “unity of effort” needed to succeed in Afghanistan. Obama also made a wise choice in nominating Gen. David Petraeus to replace McChrystal. McChrystal has been an outstanding soldier, but as Obama explained, the military’s code of conduct needs to apply equally to everyone, including generals.

Afghanistan strategy in doubt

afghanistanPresident Obama may not be ready to draw conclusions about the success or failure of his Afghanistan surge, but a variety of pundits are. “There is no overall game plan, no real strategy or coherent goals, to guide the fighting of U.S. forces. It’s just a mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-destroying slog, month after month, year after pointless year,” wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who blames Obama for never clearly defining the mission and the American people for zoning out while more than 1,000 U.S. troops have died. The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl cited the “failure of European governments to follow through on pledges to contribute in crucial areas such as training,” the “divergence between U.S. interests and those of (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai,” and the “continued absence in the U.S. command of a clear and coherent plan for pacifying southern Afghanistan.” Columnist George Will noted that the discovery of $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan “will encourage the perception that the U.S. engagement there has something to do with economic aggrandizement, will aggravate Afghanistan’s pandemic corruption and will intensify the Taliban’s determination to prevail in a place where even good news has, like a scorpion, a sting in its tail.”

Candidates silent on wars

iraqsoldierHave U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become so long-running and routine that they are no longer a high priority? Surely not. Yet the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt scanned some candidates’ websites and found military and national security issues way down the issues lists. He found the candidates’ quiet disquieting, concluding: “If the absence of debate reflects not full-bodied consensus but a wishful averting of eyes, then a spectacular attack on U.S. forces, or even a U.S. surge that yields fruit more slowly than hoped, could tip public opinion abruptly. In that case even political leaders who believe in the mission, having been AWOL from the debate, will have difficulty tipping it back.”