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We Cannot Win In Afghanistan And Should Withdraw As Soon As Possible

We Cannot Win In Afghanistan And Should Withdraw As Soon As Possible

By Ed Koch - June 29, 2010

President Barack Obama did the right thing in firing General Stanley McChrystal. Now, he should direct the armed forces to take the measures needed to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. When he authorized a 30,000 troop surge for Afghanistan - like the one used in Iraq - he assured his radical left base that he would start bringing our troops home by July 2011.

As I have stated many times before, I believe we should leave Afghanistan as soon as possible because we cannot win there. The surge begun in Marja, a small city of 60,000, first touted as a success is now seen as a failure with the Taliban driven out during the day, but coming back at night and threatening residents with death if they cooperate with U.S. forces, just as the Vietcong did in Vietnam. The second planned foray -- an attack on Kandahar, a city of one million -- has been delayed.

The New York Times reports today that C.I.A. director Leon Panetta "acknowledged that the administration's counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, based in part on the deployment of 30,000 more American troops, was off to a troubled start, though he insisted it was making progress. 'It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated,' he said."

Rather than coming to our aid, our NATO Allies are abandoning us in droves. Most of them are planning to leave Afghanistan as soon as they can. Even today, we provide the vast majority of troops on the ground. Meanwhile, we have seen our casualties mount with deaths now over 1,000, 97 of which occurred this month alone. Further undermining our efforts is the fact that the Karzai government is widely unpopular among Afghans. On the June 27th edition of "Meet The Press," reporter Tom Ricks, commenting on the unwillingness of Afghans to accept the Karzai government even while rejecting the Taliban, said, "I remember reading an interview with an Afghan villager. The reporter said to him, 'What did you think of the Taliban vs. what did you think of the police sent by Kabul?' He said, 'Well, the Taliban were pretty mean to us; they were pretty rough. We didn't like them. But when the police from Kabul came, the first thing they did was take our little boys and rape them.' You've got to deal with this Afghan government. Our biggest single problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban. They are a consequence of our problem. Our problem in Afghanistan is the Kabul government."

Besides the Kabul government, we are impeded by new rules of engagement that will not allow us to win. The New York Times of June 23rd carried a lengthy article on those rules and reported how frustrated the American soldiers are, believing they are being denied needed support from our air force because of the fear of injuring civilians. We are doing to ourselves what the United Nations is trying to do to Israel - imposing a doctrine of proportional response. The lives of our soldiers are no longer our prime concern. We will not provide maximum protection if doing so could damage our relationship with President Karzai or other Afghan political figures. If we won't protect our troops as our first priority, then along with other reasons, we cannot win, and we should get out now.

The Times of June 23rd pointed out the deleterious effect of our new rules of engagement as perceived by our soldiers: "But the new rules have also come with costs, including a perception now frequently heard among troops that the effort to limit risks to civilians has swung too far, and endangers the lives of Afghan and Western soldiers caught in firefights with insurgents who need not observe any rules at all."

A military that is so constrained cannot successfully fight a war against an enemy that does not follow any rules. The best way to save our soldiers' lives is the obvious one: bring them home. A new factor that the President should consider is the prospect of an Afghan civil war. Dexter Filkins of The New York Times wrote on June 27th, "The drive by President Hamid Karzai to strike a deal with Taliban leaders and their Pakistani backers is causing deep unease in Afghanistan's minority communities, who fought the Taliban the longest and suffered the most during their rule. The leaders of the country's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, which make up close to half of Afghanistan's population, are vowing to resist - and if necessary, fight - any deal that involves bringing members of the Taliban insurgency into a power-sharing arrangement with the government. Alienated by discussions between President Karzai and the Pakistan military and intelligence officials, minority leaders are taking their first steps toward organizing against what they fear is Mr. Karzai's long-held desire to restore the dominance of ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for generations."

We have been in Afghanistan for nine years. Many military experts believe we could be there for another ten years. Are we now to sacrifice the lives of more of our young men and women and treasure of this country having spent more than one trillion dollars on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date, in a new civil war that is brewing between Afghans? Will we continue to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom our government has labeled as corrupt? Apparently he is now dealing with the Taliban with the knowledge and agreement of the U.S. Does this make any sense, since we attacked the Taliban government in late 2001 because it allowed al-Qaeda to train and plot against us in Afghanistan and gave shelter to Osama bin-Laden? If the Taliban were to come back to power through power sharing, does anyone believe they will give up their Islamic fundamentalist agenda, including trampling women's rights, converting infidels by force and warring against the West and the rest of the non-Muslim world?

Today's Wall Street Journal provides another reason to get out, stating, "U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars abroad."

When will the activists plan and support a new march on Washington, D.C. as occurred during the Vietnam War? If we had a draft instead of a volunteer army, you can be sure the families of those fighting in Afghanistan would be demanding from their members of Congress that they stop funding the war. Shouldn't we make the same effort to protect the young men and women in our volunteer army? Where are the members of Congress willing to oppose ongoing appropriations for the war, except for defense and withdrawal?

If new leaders are not there to take on this battle, then we should urge the veterans of the earlier fight to end the Vietnam War to step forward again. If President Obama won't reverse course on the Afghan war, then there must be someone in Congress like Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, willing to launch a campaign whose centerpiece is ending the war and bringing our troops home.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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