By Alicia Jen
Thirteen years after 9/11 and the deployment of the first troops to Afghanistan, and three years after President Obama’s promise to withdraw the troops, 2014 looks like the year that US involvement with the War in Afghanistan will begin trickling down to a close. Americans will no doubt be relieved to end of one of the most unpopular wars in their country’s history, but is the unstable Afghanistan, still ridden with Taliban insurgents, ready to fend for itself"
Though the war initially began in order to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice, polls repeatedly show that American citizens have long been ready for it to be over. A CNN poll in December found that a striking 82% of those surveyed opposed the Afghanistan war, up from the still-high 46% in 2008. Compare this to the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, both which never had above 70% disapproving. With about 2,300 US troops dead from the war and the constantly rising disapproval rates, it should’ve only been a matter of time before the president set some limits on the duration of the conflict.
President Obama’s early advocacy, however, ran contrary to this; while he resolutely supported pulling out of Iraq, this was only in order to “tak[e] the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan.” Indeed, in 2009, Obama formed a plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. More recently, though, Obama has promised to gradually bring troops home as the mission in Afghanistan “change[s] from combat to support.” To this end, in 2011, he assured Americans that “by 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.” In order for this to happen, Obama clarified that a settlement led by the Afghan government would have to be made, which seemed acceptable due to the two countries’ supposedly common goals. Unfortunately, as the withdrawal draws closer, the talks have been somewhat less efficient than expected.
During negotiations, US officials advocated for keeping several thousand troops to support Afghanistan in their continuing fight against the Taliban. However, Afghanistan has stalled in their signing of the agreement, forcing their December 31 deadline to be pushed back for another month. Afghan President Hamid Karzai insisted that US forces immediately end counterterrorist raids and that they broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but US negotiators refused to concede any more. They stress that if an agreement isn’t reached, they will have to resort to the “zero option,” withdrawing every single troop from the region.
Although it seems like Americans would be happier with this option, it leaves Afghanistan wide-open to future insurgencies without any foreign troops to back it up. A National Intelligence Estimate, compiling information from all 16 US intelligence agencies, predicts that the Taliban and other insurgent groups will begin to seize power again as soon as US forces begin to pull out. The lack of security would also hamper aid workers. Since the overthrow of Taliban rule, Afghans now live 20 years longer on average, 7 million more children attend school, and women are 80% less likely to die during childbirth. These contributions are largely due to the aid that the US was able to secure under military supervision. As James Dobbins, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan states, “My judgment is no troops, no aid… The political support for the aid comes from the military presence.” In short, an anonymous US official stated that, “In the absence of a continuing presence and continuing financial support… the situation would deteriorate very rapidly,” reversing any progress that Afghanistan may have seen under the foreign military presence.
It’s true that Americans are sick of foreign interventions, and it’s true that the war in Afghanistan has used up a lot of American resources. Our country will be happy to welcome thousands of troops this year, but since this is neither only an American or Afghan issue, people of both countries should accept that some foreign military presence must remain in order to maintain both stability in Afghanistan and security in America. The war should not just come to an end, but, as President Obama said, “a responsible end.”