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U.S. needs to play its hand right in Afghanistan

It’s Wednesday night at the White House, and all the major players in U.S. foreign policy are sitting around a table with the president. They’re considering their positions, working out their strategies, and wondering what hand is going to be dealt next. Its decision time for Barack Obama’s administration, and they have to decide: Do we go all in, or do we fold?

The White House hasn’t spent the past month locked in an international game of Texas Hold ‘em. The game is U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, and the stakes are the future of the Afghan democratic government and the lives of the potentially 68,000 troops that could be stationed there by 2010.

It’s been more than a month since General Stanley McChrystal issued a report asking the president to deploy an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan. The report has ignited a fierce national debate over the need for troops in Afghanistan. Some, like General McChrystal, feel that the U.S. needs to focus its military efforts on protecting the fragile Afghan democracy from the resurgence of Taliban forces in the provinces surrounding Kabul. Others, such as Vice President Joe Biden, want to reduce U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and focus instead on the threat of Al-Qaeda along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Obama has to decide which is the bigger risk: becoming entrenched in a never-ending war in Afghanistan, or leaving Afghanistan vulnerable to a Taliban insurgency that could return the country to its pre-9/11 state. To continue the gambling metaphor, U.S. policy on Afghanistan is looking like a crap-shoot.

The question Americans are asking themselves is: What obligation do we have to the people of Afghanistan?

For international student Wadia Samadi, this question is personal. Samadi, a junior at the University of Richmond, came to the U.S. from Kabul in 2007 through the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women (IEAW). She will return to Afghanistan after she graduates in 2011. Wadia believes that the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan is crucial not only in protecting the Afghan government from the Taliban, but also in ensuring U.S. national security.

 “If the U.S. were to withdraw from Afghanistan, let’s say tomorrow, the Afghan democracy will not survive very long because there are no institutions strong enough to keep it standing,” Samadi says. “But this is not the only consequence of such a decision: Al-Qaeda will find a more favorable terrain for its terrorist activities.”

Samadi’s opinion is based on her connections and personal experience with the democratic government in Afghanistan. Her father is Abdul Razique Samadi, Deputy Minister of Administration for the Ministry of Finance in Afghanistan. Wadia returns to Kabul every summer and was in the city during preparations for the 2009 Afghan presidential election.

The fate of the new democracy in Afghanistan holds a personal significance for Wadia’s family. Samadi’s family left Afghanistan when Civil War broke out in 1991. They relocated to a refugee camp in Pakistan and returned to Kabul in 2002, once the Taliban presence had been “removed” by U.S. forces. Samadi does not believe that military withdrawal is even an option for the U.S., as it would signify a clear defeat to Al-Qaeda and pave the way for Taliban resurgence.         

“That is a chance not a single American leader will take,” she says.

Not a single American leader, except, it seems, except for Vice President Biden. The vice president has been vocal in his opposition of sending more troops to Afghanistan. According to an article by Joanna Neuman of the Los Angeles Times, Biden wants to scale back the military presence in Afghanistan, not inflate it with 40,000 additional troops. Biden’s strategy would reduce nation-building efforts and refocus military resources into eradicating the Al-Qaeda presence on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Which according to Samadi, is “a very bad idea.”

 “If the U.S. stops fully supporting Afghanistan, we will go back to the pre-2001 situation which will mean defeat for the U.S.,” Samadi says.

This idea supports McChrystal’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s report, available at Washingtonpost.com, states, “stability in Afghanistan is imperative; if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or has insufficient capability to counter transnational terrorists – Afghanistan could again become a base for terrorism.”

After eight years of occupation in Afghanistan and 774 military casualties, as recorded in the Washington Post on October 4, the American people are sick of war. Many Americans feel that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. They believe that the U.S. should stop pouring resources into a never-ending battle against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and focus instead on problems within our own country. But according to Wadia Samadi, a withdrawal would mean ignoring the reasons we invaded Afghanistan in the first place.

 “There are no winning situations in wars against non-conventional enemies,” says Samadi. “But downsizing the Al-Qaeda movement from a many thousand-strong army like structure with billions of dollars in its hands to a small group with little means is what we can call ‘winning the war’”.

The coming weeks will decide not only the future of American troops in Afghanistan, but the fate of democratic government in Afghanistan. Its decision time America: Do we go all in, or do we fold?

Rachel Dougherty is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at rdougher@student.umass.edu.

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