Some thoughts about Afghanistan’s past, present and future
By Stephan Drew
At last, our military presence in Afghanistan is almost over. After 20 years of watching it unfold, I’m still not sure what to call it. It began as an “invasion” after we were attacked on 9/11 by Al Qaeda. Then, we were “occupying” the area and hunting down enemies of liberty. After a while, it took on the look of a “nation-building” operation. We helped them elect and install a new government and taught them how to lead a nation and hold positions of power responsibly. We also armed and trained their military. We built schools and hospitals that were desperately needed, trained doctors, nurses and teachers, and “urged” them into finally giving women rights that are taken for granted all around the world but have been denied to Afghan females since time began. For the past two decades, we have been a daily presence in their lives. But, now that it’s over, we need to evaluate the entire situation and hope that we can find some satisfaction with the results. Since Oct. 7, 2001, we have been fighting the longest war in U.S. history. We lost 2,448 of our brave military men and women and over 20,000 more were injured. Also among the fatalities are over 3,000 civilian contractors, nearly 75,000 Afghan military and police, over 71,000 civilians and up to 240,000 other “casualties of war,” including Pakistanis, Iraqis and Syrians. Since 9/11, we have lost over 7,000 of our fine military personnel fighting the war on terror. These were bright, strong, brave young men and women, in the prime of their lives, making the ultimate sacrifice in their service to this great country. Each one of them was a child, parent and/or spouse. They are all precious to us because they take the supreme risks to keep the rest of us safe from harm. And they have done an excellent job, especially the past two decades. But, their families and the injured survivors deserve answers. They need to know that their sacrifices were worth it. They have endured extremely long absences from their families and friends. Many are now getting to know the school-aged children they last saw as infants. They’ve spent the years sleeping with one eye open and always armed, not knowing when or from which direction danger might come. At the same time, they have tried to foster a friendly relationship with the Afghan people. We owe them a debt of gratitude for keeping us safe from harm. They did it under impossible and hostile conditions and within a very unique demographic. Seventy percent of the Afghan population is 30 or younger. They don’t remember the Soviet invasion and nine-year occupation (late 1979 to early 1989), but they were raised on the horrible stories told by those who lived through it. The Russians didn’t concentrate on being “nice” to the people. They only wanted to take over the region and absorb it into the USSR. They weren’t really concerned about “fostering democracy” in the territory. And the Afghan people didn’t forget how they were treated. Unfortunately, they (wrongly) assumed ALL military forces were the same. They also didn’t forget that the Russians invaded, bombed and killed, and then left them to be taken over by the Taliban. When we went in, we tried our best to prove them wrong about the harshness of military troops. We were hunting down the “bad guys” but we had no quarrel with the ordinary people. The media showed us many incidents where U.S. soldiers were playing with Afghani children, helping their elderly and, alongside the people, building the facilities that would help them modernize and move toward being more aligned with other civilizations around the world. Most of us were horrified by the videos of IEDs exploding and injuring or killing our courageous soldiers. We have closely followed their progress and setbacks for the past 238 months. During that time, we have spent trillions of “borrowed” dollars, lost thousands of lives and left equipment and weapons behind which, I’m sure, will find a home in the terrorists’ arsenal to use against us in the future. After 20 years of blood, sweat, tears, prayers and loans (which MIGHT be paid off by the time your great-grandchildren die), what exactly do we have to show for all this patience, sacrifice and hard work? It certainly made alot of money for the industrial billionaires. But, that wasn’t our objective, was it? Do we have a new, friendly government we can rely on? Did we instill in the Afghan people that we are really their “friends” and that they shouldn’t allow or support a terrorist regime? I certainly hope so. If not, this could be a very short “time of peace.” After being over there for so lengthy a period, we are withdrawing and the Taliban is quickly moving in to fill the void left by our departure. I’m not sure if we’ve thrown our hands up in exasperation or whether there’s some other reason. Several things have been accomplished, though. We did manage to get Osama bin Laden and end his destruction. And we did provide clean water, education, medical care and better living conditions for many of the people there. But did we achieve our major objective? I thought we were going in to also stabilize the country and leave after a safer, more democratic government was safely in power and secure in their ability to defy the Taliban and any other hostile forces. Now, it seems, that didn’t happen and it may have dire consequences not only here in America but also throughout the world. There is a state of general apprehension being felt around the globe and for good reason. When the Russians left in early 1989, the Taliban moved in and fostered radical terrorist activity which led to the most horrible attack on our country since Pearl Harbor. When World War II ended in 1945, we knew that Japan would never attack us again. We made certain of it. Now I’m not so sure about the regime in Afghanistan. It could go either way. They could call themselves our “friend” to receive billions in foreign aid (which they might put to other uses). Or they could attack us again, directly or through an organization like Al Qaeda. It is a very disquieting time and the whole world is uneasy. It will be like this for a while, until we see what the Taliban will do. We have the military power and the capability to wipe them off the map if they try to repeat an attack on us. But that would begin the cycle of war and occupation all over again and nobody really wants that. After 20 years of fighting and suffering, and 18 months of chaos during a pandemic, we’re tired and we just want peace and quiet. I pray that we can bring about some measure of tranquility for our people. And I also hope that we will think long and hard about this before we propel ourselves into any other military operations. I do have one suggestion, though. In the 1800s, there was a rule in the military – “The man who gives the order leads the charge.” What if we bring that back and, as a condition of going to war, every politician who votes in favor of it has to serve a certain amount of time in the front lines? If this was to become a requirement, I truly believe our government wouldn’t be so quick to “rattle the sabers” and we might just engage in much less military action in the future. We owe it to our precious men and women in uniform to only send them in when it is absolutely necessary and to make sure they have everything they need to achieve what we send them to do. If our dear “public servants” aren’t willing to put their own lives in danger, they shouldn’t be asking thousands of brave men and women in uniform to risk theirs. I am profoundly grateful to the men and women who serve and make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. I value their lives enormously and I pray for their families and friends who are dealing with these tremendous struggles every day. I only hope my government feels the same way. Their future military decisions will prove whether or not they do.