The question could as easily asked: "How long should we stay in Iraq?" But, unless some thing major changes the current situation, the answer is about a year longer than Candidate Obama said we would. An agreement has been signed which spells out how much longer we're allowed to stay. So, let's address the length of stay in Afghanistan, where our ally has not indicated any desire for us to leave anytime soon.
Our enemy has, of course, repeatedly indicated they want us out. It's pretty simple to see why: the enemy knows that we impede their desire to impose a tyrannical dictatorship over the Afghan people. The enemy knows that it would be much easier to establish control over at least some area, if the US, the UK, Canada, and NATO, along with many other allies weren't there.
The pertinent focus of the question is what should be our criteria for leaving? The American People at
Should the end of our efforts in the War On Terrorism be based on how long we've been there? Should it be based on how much money is being spent? Should the name be changed based on partisan politics? Or should it be event oriented? Should it be based on success? On a desired end state? Is there a reason to stay if the current government in Afghanistan stabilizes? If their Army becomes fully manned, fully funded, and completely capable of fighting OUR common enemy should we then leave? Or should we transition to a different type of relationship that maintains a presence there?
During the Cold War, there were often calls for us to abandon post in West Germany, in South Korea, in the Phillipines, and elsewhere. Strangely, those calls have largely died down. In 1944, we occupied Germany and Japan. We are still there. We have never left but we are not occupying Germany. Could that relationship be a model for our future with Afghanistan? Or should the politicians calling for a deadline to pull out of Afghanistan and before that Iraq, instead be calling for a pullout of Germany? And why is it that malcontents and politicians call for pulling out of the areas where Troops are most needed?
Is there a "body count" that requires a pullout of Troops? Is it the double digits that led to the pullout from Somalia? Is it 1000? Is it 5000? 50,000? And if a body count alone is grounds for a withdrawal, then why do the same groups that call for a pullout of current combat zones also claim World War II was justified? We lost thousands on D-Day alone. In an average week of WWII, we lost more Troops than we have in nearly a decade in Afghanistan. During the late 70's, more Soldiers died each year in accidents than we've lost in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas.
If the War On Terror continues to cost Troops' lives at the same rate as it has so far, it would be another 64 years before it cost the same as one year on US Highways. Every year, 40,000 deaths occur on US Highways.
The fact is that the enemy has told us that their strategy is to outlast our attention span, to outlast our will to fight. After being at war for 8 plus years, every single member of the Military signed up or re-enlisted, knowing that we are at war and that the contract meant they would likely be sent to the current conflicts. Recruiters are still turning away qualified recruits.
No, no one can complain that they thought joining the Military would not entail going to war. And not even those that went to Desert Storm, the ones that "signed up for the college money," had a reasonable complaint. When one signs on the dotted line, it is with the full knowledge that their job is warfare. It is with the understanding that the President, with Congressional Approval, can commit them to wars he deems necessary.
The problem is not Our Troops. The problem is that too many of our citizens are ignorant of why we are at war. Too many of our citizens are ignorant of the actions of Our Troops that are at war. Too many citizens care more about who will be the judge and who will be eliminated on American Idol than what Our Troops are actually doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in what it will take to win, and if our politicians are supporting victory.
Sure, most people know that we were attacked in Washington DC and in New York City on September 11, 2001. They know that we invaded Afghanistan because that is where Al-Qaeda was headquartered. They know we fought the Taliban and still are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. But too many do not understand the difference between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Too many do not understand how a good and strong ally in Afghanistan can help prevent Al-Qaeda from attacking us again. Too many don't understand that most Afghans want our help, want democracy, want the Taliban gone. Too many do not understand that training an Afghan Soldier is far more challenging than training an American Soldier.
When should we leave Afghanistan? Certainly not before the Afghan Democracy can stand on its own against the Taliban and against Al-Qaeda. Perhaps not for decades after that, based on what agreements the Afghan Government makes with ours. Success in Afghanistan begins with the defeat of the Taliban but success in Afghanistan also rests on helping the Afghans establish a good government that its people trust, that its people can change without civil war. Success in Afghanistan is likely to lead to the kind of ally that Germany became during the Cold War.
But success in Afghanistan cannot be achieved solely through combat, nor should it rest on the shoulders of the military alone. The US Military has the capacity to achieve many parts that are required to succeed, including good governance, good judiciary actions, good policing, and construction of infrastructure. Moreso than any other part of government, the US Military is full of motivated, honest people of integrity and honor. There is hardly an institution on earth better at eliminating corruption than Our Military.
Success in Afghanistan does include teaching them things their culture has forgotten under decades of abuse, tyranny, and civil war. It includes teaching them national logistics. It includes teaching them medical practices, clinic procedures, and hospital construction. It includes teaching them judicial practices, legal code, and freedom from corruption. It includes teaching them beekeeping, road construction & maintenance, and municipal governance.
It does not rest on Afghans adopting western clothing, frame housing, or listening to US music. It does not rest on Afghans changing their religion or their wedding ceremonies, but it does include teaching them how to teach their kids to read and write.
It is not the job of the American Soldier to give kids candy or to treat them kindly. It is the nature of an American Soldier to do so. It is the nature of the American Soldier to treat people fairly and respectfully, to protect non-combatants from danger. It is that nature that changes the perceptions of civilians that come in contact with the American Soldier. It is that nature that makes it a good thing for Our Troops to interact with Afghans, with Iraqis, with others.
Remember: We are in Afghanistan because the Taliban provided Al-Qaeda free rein, because the Taliban were complicit in Al-Qaeda training terrorists in Afghanistan, because the Taliban invited and hosted Al-Qaeda. The Taliban religiously pursue the oppression and illiteracy of an enslaved female gender. The Taliban is every stereotype the liberals say they oppose. To abandon the Afghan people to the Taliban Tyranny would be like asking a child abuser to babysit.