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Afghanistan: When Will the War End, and Can the U.S. Win?

The Final Call, News Analysis, Ashahed M. Muhammad Posted: Sep 14, 2009

When launched on October 7, 2001, the goals of the War in Afghanistan, dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, were to locate, capture or kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the members of his leadership cadre and end the Taliban regime's stronghold in the region, striking a decisive blow in the Bush administration's infamous global War on Terror.

While many members of Al-Qaeda's command staff have been captured or killed, and many Taliban members neutralized, Osama bin Laden remains on the loose, suspected of being somewhere in a mountainous remote Pakistani region. Al Qaeda has evolved, spreading to several areas across the globe. The Taliban appears able to strike U.S. military forces at will, and public support for the war is rapidly falling.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released September 1 found that 57 percent of the American people are opposed to the war, up 11 points since April.

Last month was the deadliest for U.S. military personnel since the war began eight years ago and pressure is rising on Pres. Barack Obama and top U.S. military officials to find a quick solution to a very complex problem. Some critics on the left and the right are calling on him to withdraw from Afghanistan completely, while others, including military officials, are suggesting recalibration of troop levels and force deployment.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently described the situation as serious and deteriorating. U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan said the situation in Afghanistan requires a revised implementation strategy. Even conservative commentator George Will in an opinion piece appearing in the Sept.1 Washington Post suggested rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan.

What the last eight years have shown us is that what we need is not a new military strategy, but a new strategy altogether, said Clare Moen of the War Resisters League and editor-in-chief of their official publication, WIN magazine. Sending in more troops has not been working. We just finished the deadliest month in the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, she added.

Ms. Moen's group, an 84-year-old nonviolent anti-war organization, plans major anti-war action in cities across the U.S. on October 5 to protest the War in Afghanistan and demand an immediate withdrawal of troops. She said many protesters may have even voted for Pres. Obama in the November 2008 election.

A lot of people who voted for Obama were hoping that he would reverse a lot of Bush's policies, specifically on occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, but I'm not sure their hopes were necessarily founded in reality, said Ms. Moen.

Responding via e-mail from France to questions presented by The Final Call, author, political commentator and co-founder of the online news magazine Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah wrote, During the campaign, Obama promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan and spread it to Pakistan. By all accounts he is keeping that promise. More bombs, more violence, more displaced people will not produce the conditions for peace. Rather, it will expand the circle of suffering and those willing to take up arms in defense of what they experience as a foreign invasion. So sadly I do see the worst yet to come.

Obama's war?

Pres. Obama, immediately upon taking office, said Afghanistan was a necessary war and while he has ordered an increase in troop levels and has attempted to work with cooperative allies within Afghanistan and Pakistan to succeed, conflict rages.

On Sept. 2 Afghanistan's deputy chief of intelligence, Abdullah Laghmani was assassinated after a suicide bombing attack just east of the country's capital of Kabul. According to the AP a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the assassination.

The results from the recently held Afghan presidential election are still in dispute, with the announcement delayed because of allegations of voter fraud. Even after the results are announced, analysts say the Afghan government is weak and the drug trade threatens what little stability there is.

Most often, the central government is criticized for its high level of corruption. To me, that is not the most critical problem. The main problem is that it is weak, wrote DePaul University political science professor Patrick Callahan in an e-mailed response to The Final Call. Historically, power in Afghanistan has been highly decentralized. There was a government in Kabul, the capital city, but real control over what happened on the ground rested in tribal leaders and warlords. That is layered on sharp ethnic differences in different parts of the country. In fact, it is misleading to think of Afghanistan as a country or a nation. It is a territory containing several nations and falling woefully short of having the coherence we ordinarily associate with the word country,' he added.

Though poppy cultivation and opium production has gone down, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009, its executive director, Antonio Maria Costa still sees narcotics trafficking as a major problem in the region. According to the report, poppy cultivation dropped 22 percent and opium production by 10 percent and there has been a 33 percent drop in the area of land devoted to poppy cultivation, the report said.

The bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market. For the second year in a row, cultivation, production, work-force, prices, revenues, exports and its GDP share are all down, while the number of poppy-free provinces and drug seizures continue to rise. Yet, Afghan drugs still have catastrophic consequences. They fund criminals, insurgents, and terrorists in Afghanistan and abroad. Collusion with corrupt government officials keeps undermining public trust, security, and the law, said Mr. Costa.

War without end

Robert T. Starks, political science professor at Northeastern Illinois University described Afghanistan as almost ungovernable and pointed out that if Pres. Obama continues to ramp up troop levels in an effort to stay the course, he runs the risk of a prolonged conflict appearing to be without end. As the American bodies continue to pile up, public support will continue to decline. However, the major issue, according to Prof. Starks, is the financial drain the war is having on a faltering American economy.

Economically, this country cannot afford to continue that war. said Prof. Starks. The last thing he wants to do is to have a repeat of what went on in Vietnam, that type of long range fight going on in Afghanistan, said Prof. Starks.

For Pres. Obama and the multinational forces in the region, the bad news keeps on coming.

According to media reports, a NATO air strike in Afghanistan on Sept. 4 caused at least 90 civilian casualties. Constant drone attacks with Hellfire missiles have taken the lives of hundreds of non-combatants in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has not helped matters with locals whom the multinational forces are ostensibly seeking to enlist for support.

A top defense aide to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned on Sept. 3 over disagreements regarding the government's Afghanistan policy and involvement. According to a recent poll in London's Daily Telegraph 66 percent of Brits are against the war. Fifty-two British soldiers have been killed in the conflict within the last two months. With four months left, 2009 has already been the deadliest year for troops in Afghanistan. There are currently about 68,000 American troops engaged in combat operations there.

Despite those realities on the ground, Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a Sept. 3 press briefing alongside Adm. Mullen at the Pentagon, reiterated his support for Pres. Obama's strategy while acknowledging faltering support.

I don't believe that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers. And I think it's importantfirst of all, the nation has been at war for eight years. The fact that Americans would be tired of having their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising, said Sec. Gates. He also cautioned against determining the success or failure of the military operation based on what may be considered a limited perspective.

I think what's important to remember is, the president's decisions were only made at theon this strategy were only made at the very end of March. Our new commander (Gen. McChrystal) appeared on the scene in June. We still do not have all of the forces the president has authorized in Afghanistan yet, and we still do not have all the civilian surge that the president has authorized and insisted upon in Afghanistan yet, said Sec. Gates.

Prof. Starks said in spite of what the generals are saying, the reality is that Pres. Obama is going to be forced to consider a withdrawal sooner rather than later.

Leading Islamic scholar Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute, a non-profit, educational religious institute and school based in Berkeley, California agreed. His advice to Pres. Obama would be blame it on Bush and get out.

It's an unwinnable war, it has nothing to do with stopping terrorists, in fact, if anything, it is going to create more animosity towards this country and it is going to create more people who have reasons to seek revenge against this country, said Imam Shakir. Pres. Obama should not be deterred by the possibility of being called weak by the right wing, he added.

It takes more strength to do the right thing. Sometimes it takes more strength to walk away from a fight you shouldn't be involved in than to display a false sense of macho and a false sense of courage by engaging in that fight. It takes more courage to defy the warmongers, it takes more courage to defy the militarists, it takes more courage to stand up to admit that you made a mistake, said Imam Shakir.

Related Articles:

Afghanistan Is Obamas Vietnam

Should Pakistanis Celebrate U.S. Killing of Pakistan's Most Wanted Man?

Afghanistan: Marines' Mission Doomed to Failure

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