Should We Get Out of Afghanistan

The political world is reeling from the admission of Representative Bill Young, Republican, Chairman of the House Military Appropriation Committee, that it is time to get out of Afghanistan.  Representative Young can be described as a hawk’s hawk and who until an interview with a Tampa newspaper had been an ardent and vocal supporter of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Likewise Senator John McCain has indicated that it is time to reassess our policy towards Afghanistan, while not going as far as Representative Young, he nevertheless has indicated some willingness to backing away from his previous win it at all cost stance.

Recent polling data indicates that almost 2/3 of Americans are questioning our continued presences in Afghanistan?

What does this mean?  I would suggest it reflects war weariness by the American public, and realistic question about whether Afghanistan can ever be a “unified” country or will it always be a loose confederation of tribes.  I also think it reflects the profound effect which a letter from American soldier to Representative Young in which the soldier predicted his death because of stupidity by the chain of command.

So gentle readers (with apologies to Miss Manners) should the United States remain in Afghanistan and under what conditions; or should the United States withdraw immediately from Afghanistan?  This is your chance to sound off like you have a pair!


  1. Curly says:

    If Obama had had his way the US would be out of there already. Now that said I think that is not enough. I think that almost every US military base except in the Continental US and Alaska should be shut down and brought home. The few exceptions would strategically selected and would only have a care taker detachment. That way if need it would be ready for the US forces to return. Likewise I think that the US should recognize every nation that there is on this earth but would not be beholden to any of them. The US should keeps its nose out of everyone else's business.That would save much because we would no longer need s huge standing military. But to do this expanding and updating our Nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Also the US should establish a space station that is US only.

    • Townie 76 says:

      Your rhetoric reminds me of the rhetoric of the 1920's and 30's isolationists. Is that what you advocating?

      Would you maintain forces in Hawaii–as that is not the Continental US? Where should those strategically located bases be?

      If we follow you model how small can the U S Army and USMC be reduced?

      • JustAl says:

        The "isolationists" of the 1920's and 1930's didn't have the most advanced strategic deterrent in the history of mankind. Those who continue to want to strut around the world playing global police squad remind me of the Victorian English from the 19th century.

        If our nation has a genuine will to protect itself with nuclear weapons your comparison to the pre-WW2 period is a straw man.

        • BK says:

          And the deterrent for anything short of a nuclear war? And what is the target with the nuclear weapon in the case of an attack similar to 9/11? Or do we simply not respond to those attacks?

          I'm not saying we need to be the global police squad but I gotta believe that there is something between being the GPS and launching nukes.

          The reality is, partner engagement is critical to our security and relies largely upon having somebody else patrol their own country and arrest the bad guys there before they attack us here. That does not involve us occupying the country or rebuilding it but it does require that we stay engaged with military and security forces around the world.

  2. VMI Warrior says:

    In a perfect world we should have stayed in Iraq, extracting oil to pay for it, and also improve the infrastructure and slowly ease them into the 19th century until they are able to join civilized people as a free nation. Afghanistan the same thing, if there are enough natural resources to justify it.
    I realize I am in a minuscule minority as a neo-imperialist, and that we won't follow that course of action. The next best thing is to lay waste as we pull chocks, leaving nothing behind but scorched earth ("….so that crows will have to bring thei own provinder."). And salt the earth on the way out.

    • Townie 76 says:

      So why do you favor neo-imperialism? Do you feel somehow the US is morally superior to other nations or is this a belief that we have a right to exploit the resources of other nations?

      How would justify laying waste to Afghanistan, really they already are just barely out of the stone age, laying waste and salting the earth is going to accomplish what?

    • JustAl says:

      I like the term "neo-imperialism". In the naked light of day, securing raw materials is the ONLY logical reason other than response to attack to engage in war. At last, another realist! I worried about my son and nephews when they went to both Iraq and Afghanistan, but at least I knew Iraq had strategic possibilities, aside from rare earth metals and zero infrastructure to recover them Afghanistan is a waste.

      The "spreading democratic ideas" and "winning hearts and minds" gang are the ones who go to war for no good reason, with no good plan, and no good outcome.

  3. Lief says:

    In my opinion. the Afghan people will never be more than tribes loosely connected by religion.

    The massive crime is the political blind ego that made Mr Bush and his successor believe there was a 'win' to be had there. Why did they think they could change the life these people built for themselves over many hundreds of years. The cost in the lives of our people has been horrendous.

    If it was the Taliban or the 'Al Qaeda' that we wanted to punish for 9/11 then we should have just gone in there like a tribe and killed them. All of them, wherever they were.

    Then if we were going to stay, like a tribe we should have suppressed the local tribes to establish strength and then set up our bases. If we were to govern then it would have to be as warlords so they would be familiar with what was going on, from a position they recognized as strength we could start change from the inside over 20, 50 or 100 years.

    Instead we have proven our leadership is weak and open to dissent and attack by the local tribes. It makes no difference that our fighters have no equal when their leadership cripples them with absolutely stupid rules that make the opposing Afghan tribes shake their heads and laugh.

    The Afghans have been at war for many years and ours is no different to them. It is worse in a way because we gave hope and then we are leaving so those who believed us will be killed by those who will fill the power vacuum when we go.

    I think we should pack up our people and leave the Afghans to their destiny before losing another coalition life over this folly.

    • Townie 76 says:

      Has anyone seen a good historical work by a member of the Soviet military on their misadventure in Afghanistan? I would be curious as to whether similar sentiment are expressed.

      Can you provide more insight to this statement, "their leadership cripples them with absolutely stupid rules that make the opposing Afghan tribes shake their heads and laugh."

      • JustAl says:

        A "terp" attached to my son's unit put it quiet clearly.

        "We get ambushed in the same spot every patrol, we know what village they come from, and once you Americans leave, we will kill every man, woman, and child there. Because we know that's all that will work and we can't finish it while you and your media are watching."

      • BK says:

        Are you familiar with "The Bear Went Over the Mountain." You can buy it on Amazon but there are free copies floating around the web as well.

  4. pbmax says:

    Admittedly, I'm not nearly as well-versed in military strategy as most folks here are, but I've never understood the long-term value of occupying Afghanistan. We're flat-ass broke, and that ongoing expense is a major vulnerability.

    I'd love to be educated otherwise, but that's where I am today. It's economic.

  5. Robert Mandel says:

    For God's sake,didn't anyone ever read Kipling?We should have killed OBL when the SOCOM guys had the chance and gotten the hell out of there.Afghanistan is not a nation,it is a delineated area populated by tribes that hate one another.We have sacrificed the lives of our best in a useless and stupid cause.It is time to leave,now.

    • Townie 76 says:

      Satire Alert: Good God man, you expect us to read an English poet? What does he know about Afghanistan, why history is bunk, all we need to know are the facts and we will prevail. Everyone knows the Afghanistan people just want to be like us.

  6. BK says:

    Obviously in the minority here, and not the same minority as VMI Warrior, but no we should not be leaving Afghanistan any sooner than necessary. Our reason for being there has not changed and the requirements for success have not changed. We went into Afghanistan for the very simple reason that it had become a haven for terrorist training, planning, and support. We eliminated those training facilities, scattered their leadership, and have maintained pressure on their leadership to largely dampen any ability to launch another large scale attack on the US homeland. In the end, that is the only thing that matters, protecting the US homeland.

    If we leave too early, we increase the probability that Aghanistan will return to a state of largely ungoverned areas which will permit AQ or some follow-on organization, someplace to re-establish training camps, conduct planning, and coordinate international attacks. The assumption that we can simply sit back and play "whack-a-mole" as necessary should those camps re-appear is faulty. Intelligence can be derived by a large array of sensors, but having access to the host nation intelligence and security personnel is critical as has been proven time and again throughout the world. Bombing Afghanistan on our own intelligence without the support (even if it is behind closed doors as in the case of Pakistan) will very quickly leave us with few options. See the results of our strikes under Clinton.

    But this in no way requires us to re-build Afghanistan into one unified state with Freedom and Democracy for all. It does require that we help establish a strong central government (even if it remains weak in the outlying tribal areas) and moderately effective securtiy apparatus that can at the very least prevent the return of the Taliban to power. We don't require that every tribe swear allegiance to Karzai or his government or that the ANA be able to patrol without incident in every village. But we need someone there that we can work with, who can put boots on the ground and develop informer networks even in those denied villages.

    Yes, the insider threat is very disconcerting. But it is also the most recent, and most graphic, news story as of late. There were bad policies in place and they are changing. There are still weaknesses in the system but we can still operate there. In the end, we won't turn every ANA soldier into a friend of the US. But we do need to have the ANA and the ANP there in some survivable form that can carry on after we leave. Again, these institutions will provide us with the opportunities later to engage threats to our country. We left no such apparatus in place in the 80s when we left and therefore we had no options when action was necessary.

    We do not need to establish a Korea like presence in Afghanistan. We do not need to create the United Tribes of Afghanistan. We do need to finish the mission, which has remained the same, which is to minimize the ability of extremist groups to use the country as a base of operations. This can be accomplished. It will not look like the "success" that many assume it will need to be (unified Afghanistan, strong ANA/ANP, etc.) but it will meet *our* requirements.

    • Townie 76 says:

      Are we somehow mistakenly trying to view Afghanistan through the lens of our federal system; instead should we view it in an almost medieval manner, where the loyalty and fidelity are to the strongest war lord. It seems to me the concept of a strong Central Government is fundamentally alien and at odds with the history of the region.

      "In the end, that is the only thing that matters, protecting the US homeland." Does this require us to have boots on the ground, can it not be accomplished using intelligence and SOF assets? Isn't the homeland safer if we maintain no forces in Afghanistan?

      • BK says:

        I think we are mistakenly trying to view Afghanist thorugh the lens of *our* federal system. However, Afghanistan does have a history of a stable country with a central government. "Strong" would need to be relative in this case, but the focus would be more on a central-focus. The tribes and outer villages can govern themselves, but a central government that meets with those tribes and villages and can then work externally is the key. I don't envision a situation in which the villages MUST swear loyalty to the central government, but having the government, really nothing more than an administrative support sytem, enable external inputs down to the village leve would be useful for our purposes and less intrusive in the Afghan way of life.

        For the most part, no it does not require us to have boots on the ground beyond the engagement we have in most countries. I have an SDO/DATT in country to coordinate military engagements. I have OGA in country to work with their security apparatus and their networks of agents. The footprint would be incredibly small and again, no larger than what you would find in most countries.

        I don't think you final statement follows. Whether we have forces in Afghanistan is not the issue. The question is whether Afghanistan is a haven for terrorist operations. In 2002, having forces in theater was necessary in order to roll-up those terrorist groups. In 2016, having our forces in theater, so long as all of my above criteria are met, is probably no longer the case. Having forces in theater though, I do not see as a threat to the homeland. Yes, we lose American lives. Yes, we lose American treasure. But no, the country is not at risk of attack *because* we have troops in Afghanistan.

  7. VMI Warrior says:

    In response to you and JustAl [above] I would say that yes, I do unapologeticaly believe we are morally superior to many, if not most other countries. I would also disagree that acting like the 19th century Victorian English is a bad thing. I'll explain my opinions….

    As a nation, as a culture, we certainly are not perfect, but we are about the best one on earth. When one looks at rule of law, civil rights such as property rights, religious freeoms, etc. etc. [you all know the rest] we ARE a better society than most others, particularly those in the "developing world"/"3rd world", by any metric used.

    By neo-imperialism I don't advocate simply stripping other peoples of their natural resources and leaving them to their own devices. This is the macro scale equivelent of highway robbery. I think that we should extract resources needed to improve our society, but return to the societies from which these resources come not only education and technology, but improve their infrastructures as well so that they can eventually be prepared to rule themselves and improve themselves without the need of outdside investment.

    In example, imagine underdeveloped country A has large deposits of rare earth metals required for the production of electronics. Country A has poor security with a corrupt, weak central government [autocratic or nominally democratic/single party rule] and several areas controled by tribal warlords, very poor infrastructure, low literacy, high infant mortality. This situation describes not only Afghanistan but most of Africa and much of Asia. The raw material is of no use to the A-landers. They have no way to extract it, no domestic use for it, and with at-risk property rights and poor rule of law, no hope of outside investers coming in to do the work. They receive no benefit from these materials. What product is retrieved is sold to developed countries, but the profits kept by warlords and corrupt bureaucrats.

    If we were to occupy A, we would provide securityand rule of law. Raw materials could be harvested (employing local labor), shipped to the US (or China/Japan/Korea/Germany) where it could be used to produce the electronics. Taxes on corporations involved would be used to develop the infrastructure (roads/schools/hospitals/energy production/sanitation), so both sides would benefit.

    The Victorian English did quite well with this. An island of pasty white men in the North Sea not only "ruled the waves", but an Empire that spanned the globe. Imperial Britain spawned the industrial revolution, became a center for science, medicine, invention and arts. Since their empire fell, what are they? A 3rd rate nation that would have a very hard time defending what few overseas possessions they have, little industry and little else to show that they were THE superpower just 150 years ago. If you go to Africa today much of the infrastructure still in use was built by colonial administrations. Even in Iraq, the rail system and much of the oil infrastructure was a hold-over from the British Mandate period. Countries that have recently come out of "colonial" status such as Malaysia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong are enjoying thriving economies now. "Older" Crown colonies such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and US are the most developed countries on earth. I think their system works quite well well done properly and given enough time.

    I would not condone the Belgian / Spanish model of colonialism of raping colonies of resources and returning nothing. That leads to South America and the Congo.

    Hope that answered your questions, and bravo to you if you managed to read this all the way to the end!

    • Matt says:

      Good response, I concur. I am also of the opinion that we actually are in Afghanistan to block other contries from making deals for their potentially unexploited mineral wealth. Since our model is used to doing business through corrupt governments and corporations that is what we are trying to build in Afghanistan. It is expensive and slow to make individual deals with every tribe or village that might control a mining region. It is much more efficient and business like to "lease" the mineral rights from a strong central government and not worry about the small agrarian on the ground. It is a model that worked great everywhere else, the local tribesmen are just to backwards to understand the improvements that strip and open pit mining will have on their lives.

    • 2Echo says:

      If nothing else I admire your moral confidence. If the rest of the West had cojones like that, this Somali pirate problem would have died a'born-ing.

  8. Scott Dillard says:

    I think that no one has won a war in what is now Afghanistan, beginning with Alexander the Great, whose ruined cities can still be discerned. Even the Afghans can't win a war there, altho the Taliban came close — there were still unconquered warlords around, whom we used in the early Special Ops phase.

    Karzai's latest firing of one of his most effective governors (who presented a political threat) suggests that the political problem is insurmountable on the scene — with allies like this and in Islamabad, who needs enemies?

    I saw the Kipling quote on the internet the other day but at 73 I can't remember it.

    Good discussion. Thanks, townie

    • BK says:

      Yes, Afghanistan has many, many problems. But a history of being "unconquerable"is not one of them.

      Historians do not call Afghanistan “the graveyard of empires.” TV pundits do. Ex-generals and their ‘advisors’ do. And it is a popular meme with certain elements of the press (I’m looking at you Huffington Post). But not historians.

      And here’s why: Afghanistan is not the graveyard of empires. It may have been the bitch of empires but the “graveyard” notion is not backed up by history. Historians get a little leery of using such labels if they are not backed up by history.

      You see, Afghanistan sits along the old Silk Road. Which means, until England and Spain conquered the oceans and it was easier to sail around the world, owning that territory was critical to *being* an empire. And so lots and lots of empires actually owned Afghanistan.

      So for 2500 years, one empire or another conquered, ruled, and trampled over Afghanistan starting with the Persians in about the 5th Century BC. Then came Alexander the Great. Much is made about his being killed by an Afghan archer and while it’s a little more complicated than that, to say his empire died in Afghanistan is a true demonstration of hyperbole: the empire survived in Afghanistan for 200 years after his death (and his encounter in Afghanistan).

      Soon Genghis Khan took his turn at Afghanistan and his descendents actually used Afghanistan as their base of operations to continue their conquests. Timur established his capital at Herat and Babur conquered India from Afghanistan (in about 1504), creating the first Muslim empire in the region that lasted for centuries.

      Yes, eventually the British military suffered an incredibly humiliating defeat in 1842 in which 16,000 soldiers (and their families) were massacred save for one guy (a doctor I believe). Of course, the Brits did what any good Western Empire would do. They turned right around and went back into Afghanistan that same year and defeated EVERY Afghan army sent against them. This of course was not to add Afghanistan to their empire (because really, once you can sail around the damn place why the hell would you want it?) but to establish it as a buffer between their colony in India (still including Pakistan at that time) and Tsarist Russia. This didn’t actually stop the Russians until the Second Afghan War (1878-1880) when they forced Afghanistan to accept a treaty in which the British Empire could overrule Afghan foreign policy. (This successfully secured Afghanistan as the buffer they were seeking against Russia.)

      But what about the Soviets? While their war in Afghanistan may indeed have contributed to the eventual downfall, this was hardly a credit to the Afghanis. Like nearly every successful insurgency, they were victorious because they had Stingers from the US and foreign fighters facilitated to their aid by the Pakistani ISI. Prior to this external support, the Soviets were doing a fairly good job of kicking their “unconquerable” asses.

      You might make the argument that Afghanistan has not had a strong central government able to dictate over the outlying tribes but that does not mean that its history is absent a central government that has worked with the outlying tribes in an effective manner. Just because it doesn't look like our way of doing things, does not mean that it cannot be done.

  9. Lief says:

    I am a veteran but not an Afghanistan veteran.

    My comments are coming from the position of interested (and appalled) observer.

    The leadership I am referring to is the political leadership and those of high rank that must implement their dictates.

    I understand that the leadership of the military must do the will of the civilian leadership or we have a coup. The end result though, in my opinion and observation, is that the Col/Maj/Capt/LT gets sets of 'must do's' handed to them often without a lot of regard with what went on before.

    The result to the Afghan friendly is not something solid they can depend upon. With a little hyperbole, what they want in a strong leader is to expect death if they do not comply. When they follow us the sands move under their feet. Still they try.

    The result to the unfriendly is like in a poker game when you have the other guys tell.

    They know that we will not kill them root and branch.

    JustAl has the truth of it.

    To a people who have been at war as long as the Afghans there is no 'I will hurt you a little of you don't do what I say'. Strong is 'I will kill you' and then you do it, as often as necessary and with great thoroughness.

    We as Americans want to help and provide opportunities. We, from our wonderful system can see possibilities and the wondrous rewards from cooperation.

    I believe the Afghans (speaking generally) follow the dictate; me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against my cousins … etc.

    They will never, ever, ever be like Americans in their automatic reactions.

    We are trying to make them like Americans because that is what the public will buy and allow.

    This where we have gone tragically wrong from the beginning and we are still doubling down on that bad bet.

    I am not trying to say all Afghans are bad. Let the good ones emigrate to America and leave the others there.

    I do not believe as BK says that we can minimize the terrorist sympathizers and have a good result. Anything that appears good will only last until some guy with money and a good line fires up and supports those that want to die. They will always be there.

    The Afghans will not have a government that we will approve of , ever. The reason is simple. Everyone who tries to do it our way will be killed as soon as we turn our backs.

    Furthermore (as Pakistan shows clearly) those who appear to agree go home to family and friends that do not. How long can they reasonably be expected to swim upstream? History says 'not long'.

    There is great strategic mineral wealth in the Afghan territories. If that is our under-reason for being there then a huge crime has been perpetrated on the American public not to mention our military.

    If we are to stay in Afghanistan then we must be unassailable. When we are attacked we must make it immediate suicide for our attackers. No talking. Immediate eradication of the enemy, his family including his goats and sheep.

    If we cannot do that then it is spending the lives of our men and women for little value the common man can see.

  10. Matt says:

    Sarcasm aside, my true heartfelt response to a question like this is yes, we should leave. Since we see ourselves as defenders of freedom, we should have the courage to leave Afghanistan alone to live the way they want to. Let them be free live the way they have for centuries. There is nothing morally wrong with a people that wish to live a mostly pastoral life, fight amongst themselves and repel interlopers. Unless they can clandestinely manufacture heavy weapons and NBC weapons for export they won't be a danger to the U.S.

  11. Paul Hirsch says:

    "Do you feel somehow the US is morally superior to other nations …" Yes, Japan and Germany are the proof of it.

  12. DaveO says:

    So what's this about the Afghans destroyed more US aircraft in a single day than any enemy since WWII? One Marine squadron commander KIA?

    Didn't know the Taliban had an anti-air capability.

  13. 2Echo says:

    Again with this plan for using the strategic arsenal as a foreign policy Swiss army knife. Leaving aside the question of whether it would be effective on "non-state actors," I can't imagine the rest of the US- present company excepted, JustAl- going along with that plan. Any political figure who supported the strategy would commit political suicide.