Afghan Apology Leads to Peace

12/19/2013 10:55 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

As Afghans ponder whether to accept American troops remaining in the country after 2014 to assure against a Taliban return to power, the Afghans have asked for an apology for U.S. military mistakes, including home invasions, that have rankled Afghan pride.

U.S. officials would be wise to recall what the poet Alexander Pope wrote: "To err is human but to forgive is divine."

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and -- above all -- tough talking National Security Advisor Susan Rice should recall those eternal words.

That's because an apology will clear the way for a smooth U.S. withdrawal while leaving behind about 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops to guarantee the Taliban will not be able to seize power.

The Afghan government wants the apology for military errors that have harmed Afghans during America's longest war -- the 12-year-long occupation of the Central Asian nation which remains a tinderbox of mixed successes and failures.

But already Rice has adamantly denied there will be such an apology -- even though Kerry has said it is under consideration.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai summoned a Joya Jirga or council of 2,500 elders in November to agree on a pact with departing U.S. troops. Americans want assurances U.S. troops accused of crimes will be tried in U.S. courts. Afghan leaders want an end to U.S. invasions of homes in search of Taliban. And they want the apology, which rankles among conservatives and U.S. military hawks. Some 2,154 U.S. soldiers died in the Afghan war to date.

The Taliban and allied Pashtun border groups such as Hakkani Network and Hizb-i-Islami remain ensconced in the wild tribal areas of the Pakistan and sow terror across the Afghan countryside. It's hard to say the country has been pacified even with 51,000 U.S. troops and thousands more NATO troops in country.

Afghans working for U.S. funded aid projects such as doctors, engineers, journalists, and teachers face execution if Taliban militants stop their cars or buses and discover U.S. linked groups on their cell phone history of calls.

Some say that it was always a mission impossible -- that just as Alexander the Great in the Third Century BC, the British in the 19th century and the Russians in the 20th, U.S. troops were doomed to fail.

But fail at what?

If we imagined we could subdue the Afghans using foreign troops on Afghan soil, it was indeed impossible. And if we thought we could unravel centuries of tribal practices such as selling girls, imprisoning of women and religious intolerance, we failed. Nationalism, hatred of foreign occupation, tribal loyalty and Pakistani support for rebels trumped the common sense arguments of billions in foreign aid, schools, hospitals, television stations, free press and other good deeds.

Yes there are six million kids in school, about 35 percent of them girls, as opposed to 900,000 boys only in 2001 when U.S. forces invaded to oust Osama bin Laden and the Taliban Afghan government that hosted him.

Infant mortality rates have plunged according to a Johns Hopkins survey. Free clinics provide free antibiotics, midwives, and referrals to hospitals that are upgraded, supplied and organized with USAID funding.

The Taliban can kill some of the heroic Afghan women and men who staff these clinics and schools and hospitals, but they cannot deny that suffering and pain have been reduced.

Unfortunately, the good guys in this equation are hiding their light under a blanket, afraid to attract attention of the bad guys who prowl the country from Pakistan to Iran to Tajikistan.

So to Rice, Kerry and Obama, I wish to offer a suggested text for the letter that might smooth things over.

Dear Afghan brothers and sisters,
For 12 years we have fought and died together side by side for the freedom, health, education, security and prosperity of the Afghan people. Now is the time for us to go home and hope that the Afghan government will be able to continue this struggle against the forces of ignorance and violence.

As in any military operation, mistakes have been made along the way and we deeply regret any pain and suffering they might have caused to innocent Afghan people.

We also wish to remind the Afghan people that more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers and civilians have suffered and died alongside the Afghans in bringing to your country education, schools hospitals, clinics, medicine, roads, electricity and other benefits of modern life.

We do not think many Afghans wish to return to the time of the Taliban when thousands were slaughtered because of their religion or tribe or politics. When women were banned from public life and education. When people were stoned to death by mobs because they thought differently or prayed in a different way or taught their daughters to read.

The poet Alexander Pope once wrote: "To err is human but to forgive is divine." Let us now admit that we are only human beings. If we were perfect we might have avoided all mistakes. But we are only humans.

Let us forgive each other and accept our mistakes and move forward to end suffering from hunger and disease, to build the nation and its people, and urge all to come to the table and discuss issues that divide us without the use of violence and intimidation.

And let me recall that recently we celebrated in America the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in memory of the 50,000 soldiers who died in the war's largest battle to preserve the nation and bring freedom to the slaves.

Lincoln said the aim of the battle and the war was that "the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

We wish those same freedoms for the Afghan people forever.