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The President's Decision on Troops In Afghanistan Is Wrong. Bring Them Home.

The President's Decision on Troops In Afghanistan Is Wrong. Bring Them Home.

By Ed Koch - December 9, 2009

I have no doubt that President Barack Obama and his advisors engaged in extensive discussions on what our policy should be in Afghanistan and came up with the solution they concluded would best protect the United States. The solution was to add 30,000 more U.S. troops to the 68,000 now in Afghanistan and to begin withdrawing our troops in 18 months based on conditions on the ground and success in turning over combat activities to the Afghan army.

I truly admire the President and his closest advisors - Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. I have no doubt they want to do what is in the best interest of our country. Nevertheless, I believe the President has made the wrong decision. I hope I am wrong in my conclusion.

In his West Point speech, the President explained his decision to increase our military involvement in Afghanistan as follows: "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."

To accomplish his goals, the President hopes to mold the Afghan army and police force into modern, effective institutions. Today they are corrupt and incapable of fighting effectively against the Taliban and Al Qaeda who are far fewer in number. The President's statement was further explained by his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last Sunday on "Meet The Press," who stated, "It's the beginning of a process. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working, and the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position, sort of the cavalry over the hill. But we will begin to thin our forces and begin to bring them home. But the pace of that, of bringing them home, and where we will bring them home from will depend on the circumstances on the ground, and those judgments will be made by our commanders in the field."

In a similar vein, Secretary of State Clinton on the same program stated, "What we're talking about is an assessment that in January 2011 we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces. That is what eventually happened in Iraq. You know, we're going to be out of Iraq. We have a firm deadline, because the Iraqis believe that they can assume and will assume responsibility for their own future. We want the Afghans to feel the same sense of urgency. We want them to actually make good on what President Karzai said in his inaugural speech, which is that by five years from now, they'll have total control for their defense."

We have been in Afghanistan for eight years, since 2001, during which time we have tried to train the Afghan armed forces, apparently without success. So, why should the President conclude that what we could not accomplish in eight years, we will now be able to do to some extent in 18 months, or worse still, in five years, which means for us 13 years of war in Afghanistan? That is ridiculous.

Some say the reference by President Obama to a reevaluation of our situation in 18 months was the only way he could placate the left wing of the Democratic Party. However, in my view, the left wing will not be placated for long and many of them will be joining anti-war marches that I predict will take place in 2010.

I believe the land war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Indeed, if we by any definition were to win in Afghanistan, it would be a pyrrhic victory, since Afghanistan really does not matter anymore. The real threat is nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are seeking dominance and already operate in the tribal areas and cross the border with impunity. I don't believe that the Pakistani army will ever root out the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which are perceived as allies against India, the enemy with which Pakistan has already fought three wars.

Scott Shane of The New York Times in an article on December 6th, discusses the quandary of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. He wrote, "The Taliban can plan an attack from Pakistan and execute it in Afghanistan. Their fighters - or Al Qaeda's leaders - can slip across the border to flee, or to rejoin the battle. At the same time, the Americans can fight openly only in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan, and the Taliban know it." How do we deal with that?

The Obama administration expects to increase our attacks in Pakistan, particularly with drones. The New York Times article continues, "That has been changing all year, however, and it is about to change even more, as the Americans gear up for an intensified war on both sides of the line simultaneously. The dispatch of 30,000 additional Americans to the Afghan side of the border will occur simultaneously with more intensive missile strikes from drone aircraft and Pakistani army offensives on the other side."

I predict that this coordinated strategy will not last long. When the Pakistani media begin to campaign that we are killing large numbers of innocent civilians, the weak Pakistani government will denounce the attacks by the U.S. calling for an end to the bombings and killings of alleged innocent civilians.

We also must not forget the feelings of the Pakistani "everyman," the equivalent of our so-called Joe the Plumber, described by Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise in a Times article of December 6th. She interviewed a prominent Pakistani psychiatrist who said to her, "The real terrorists are not the men in turbans we see on Al Jazeera...They are wearing Gucci suits and Brit hats. It's your great country, Madam...It's coming from Americans, Jews and Indians. It's an axis of evil that's being supervised by you people." Tavernise reported, "This is not such an unusual view in Pakistan, even if the tone was particularly harsh. At 62 years old, Pakistan is something of a teenager among nations, even in its frame of mind - self-conscious, emotional, quick to blame others for its troubles."

In conclusion, I believe we cannot and should not continue the spilling of American blood with the consequent deaths and casualties, and massive expenditure of funds we don't have. On the issue of expense, The Times reported that "[t]he economic cost was troubling [President Obama] as well after he received a private budget memo estimating that an expanded presence would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, roughly the same as his health care plan."

We should defend our homeland from all enemies, no matter the cost. However, we will be more effective in our battles against terrorists in both Afghanistan and Pakistan if we attack the terrorists from offshore bases and do not continue to be involved in a land war or, worse still, expand that land war. Next year, there will be the bi-annual Congressional elections - the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate. Two issues will dominate the election - loss of jobs and the ongoing war. The Democrats will be held responsible for both and will lose their majority in both Houses if either or especially both continue.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.
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