The military entanglement in Afghanistan, our longest ever, started out as part of the ridiculously named “War on Terror.” Declaring war on fear is completely illogical and absurd; nonetheless, our brave soldiers went into this mountainous region that made mincemeat of the Soviet Army with a goal of locating and dismantling Al Qaeda and removing the Taliban from power, as they were complicit in the training of Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban is no longer in power in Afghanistan, we can mark that box Completed. As for Al Qaeda, they are not part and parcel of Afghanistan. They are individuals, recruited for a cause by a man, or team of men, not affiliated with any nation. To say at this point in time that our presence in Afghanistan is related to the battle with Al Qaeda would be inaccurate.
There are over 100,000 American military forces in Afghanistan today, but do we know who they are battling? There is no other country engaged in a battle with Afghanistan, there are no invaders. The armed engagement comes from individuals who do not want the US presence in Afghanistan. These fighters have been called insurgents, militants, or extremists. They may be loyal to the former Taliban leadership there, although after over a decade this becomes more difficult to accept as reality. Is it proper to even call our operation in this country a war at all?
The number of private contractors in Afghanistan equal or exceed the number of soldiers. They are busy building roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and courthouses for the Afghan Government. The US military is basically a national police force there and spent many years training the Afghan military. So it appears what the United States is actually doing in Afghanistan is building a country. We have chosen a mountainous region of the world, where there has never been a centralized government, where the GDP hasn’t changed since the mid 1800’s, where the majority of the populace, including the military we’ve trained is illiterate, where, as evidenced by the recent violence over a stupid book burning shows us, Islamic leadership still holds strong sway over the masses, yet this is where we will build a nation.
The argument can and has been made that democratically elected governments, in a nation with strong centralized controls, are less likely to be a “safe harbor” for terrorist organizations. I don’t make that argument nor do I care to debate whether it’s true or not. What seems obvious is that first the Bush Administration, and now the Obama Administration both believe this to be the case and believe it in the best interest of the United States. Whether or not Afghanistan can be brought out of the tribal dark ages of their ancestry and become a thriving, vibrant democracy friendly to the United States is complete speculation. But at least the United States government should state plainly that is exactly what we’re doing there, instead of maintaining the charade of war.