THE BLOG

Time to Leave Afghanistan

U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan are scheduled to begin in July and be completed by January 1, 2014. That means U.S. troops will remain in that troubled country for almost two more years. Given recent murders of our troops by members of the Afghan military, today's killing of 16 Afghans by a U.S. soldier, the very high casualty rate of U.S. and other Nato troops, the Koran burning by American personnel and the desecration of the bodies of dead militants by Marines, it's time to change strategies and significantly advance the deadline for complete withdraw.

Following 9/11, we had a legitimate purpose in dislodging Osama Bin Laden and his followers from their bases in Afghanistan and pursuing them to their just ends. That mission is ongoing, but certainly our removing Bin Laden was a great accomplishment and a tribute to our intelligence operations and military as well as the President's leadership.

But going after al-Qaeda quickly morphed into removing the Taliban from power and engaging in nation building with what has clearly been too few troops. Afghanistan has 34 million people and is roughly the size of Texas. More than a decade of American military presence, with troop levels that reached 100,000, and the threat of retaliation by the Taliban has produced a very hostile population that can't be trusted.

It's time to leave Afghanistan. We have done our best for the country. We have trained and equipped an army and police force of over 350,000. It is now time to let that force determine its country's future.

We can continue our training mission outside of Afghanistan and provide military and economic aid as appropriate. But whether we leave Afghanistan in the next 6 months or in the next 24 months will not change Afghanistan's ultimate outcome. The same can be said of our date of departure from Vietnam and Iraq. Vietnam would, arguably, not be different today had we withdrawn five years earlier, and leaving Iraq years earlier would surely not have mattered to that nation's future. In each of these conflicts the departure dates were chosen, it seems, primarily based on political considerations. This is a grave disservice to our troops. No American soldiers should be asked to risk their lives to satisfy a politician's ambitions.

Once engaged in a war, our military quite naturally wants to stick it out and win. Many veterans of Vietnam feel we were able to win that conflict had we stayed and committed more troops and resources. Similar views pertain with respect to Afghanistan. But our country has no appetite for, and no legitimate security interest in, running other countries for decades upon decades. The world has 196 countries, many, if not most, of which are run by despots. Were we to intervene in every country with a loathsome regime, we'd have no resources to commit to our true security interests and our nation's pressing domestic problems.

In short, it's time to declare our operation completed to the best of our ability and to remove all our troops from Afghanistan within six months.

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