PD Editorial: Time for new approach in Afghanistan
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey, her 20-year tenure in Washington drawing to a end, delivered her 444th and final anti-war speech on Wednesday.
“In April 2004,” the Petaluma Democrat said, “I started speaking from this spot on the House floor about my strong anti-Iraq war convictions. Eventually, my speeches focused on Afghanistan, where we've now been waging war for more than 11 years — despite more than 2,000 Americans dead and nearly $600 billion wasted — even though we are undermining our own interests and failing to bring security and stability to Afghanistan.”
Woolsey's time in Congress will end long before the U.S. mission ends in Afghanistan, but her bleak conclusions about the war are right on target. If you doubt that, consider the Pentagon's latest assessment:
• Just one of the Afghan army's 23 brigades is capable of operating independently.
• Insider attacks by Afghan troops on their coalition partners are up.
• Violence is worse than it was before the troop surge in 2009.
• The Taliban are an “adaptive and determined” foe.
• The central government is still plagued by corruption.
• Pakistan is providing safe havens and other crucial support for the insurgency.
And those are the unclassified conclusions. They come from a semi-annual status report issued Monday by the Defense Department.
When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan for a firsthand look two days later, a senior commander described the present U.S. strategy as “tough love.”
“We want them to see failure, we want them to smell it, we want them to taste it,” Marine Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson said, according to a Washington Post account of his briefing. “We just don't want them to achieve it.”
There's little reason to believe the Afghan army will be any better prepared, or the government any less corrupt, six months from now, or even six years from now. That's why we concluded nine months ago that it was time to end the combat mission in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama plans to withdraw the remaining 66,000 troops by the end of 2014. Given the deteriorating situation, a faster timetable may make sense.
In pursing that goal, we can't ignore that risk that the Taliban will return to power and that fragile gains, such as schooling for girls, won't last. That's why leaving a residual force also may make sense.
For Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a continued Western presence can be a deterrent to a civil war such as the one we're witnessing in Syria. For the United States, it would advance national security interests by allowing continued strikes against al-Qaida targets in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Americans are weary of war. The cost is no longer justified by any military gains in Afghanistan. As Woolsey said, the present strategy is undermining our interests. It's time for a new direction and a smaller footprint in Afghanistan.
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