Still at war in Afghanistan

By Jillian Correira

Carolyn Cole/ Los Angeles Times/MCT
Carolyn Cole/ Los Angeles Times/MCT

In the autumn of 2001, the United States entered a war with Afghanistan. Twelve, almost 13 years later, it’s still not over. A recent CNN poll shows that the Afghanistan war, the country’s longest military conflict, is arguably the most unpopular in U.S. history, with support for the war now below 20 percent.

The Afghanistan war has a deadline of December 2014, when U.S. troops are expected to withdraw and leave security in the hands of Afghan soldiers. The CNN poll also shows that a majority of Americans want to see U.S. soldiers pull out of Afghanistan before the deadline.

In November 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the “United States and Afghanistan had finalized the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would allow for a lasting troop presence through 2024,” according to The New York Times. However, President Hamid Karzai is unlikely to sign this agreement before presidential elections in Afghanistan are held in April, leading to a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops.

If and when American soldiers leave Afghanistan in late 2014, it will mark the end of U.S. intervention, though it does not mark the end of the ongoing conflict between Afghan forces and the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001. The initial mission was to dismantle the main al Qaeda safe harbor and find and capture Osama bin Laden. But shortly after, the war in Iraq became the No. 1 priority for Washington and the American public. Resources and manpower were diverted from the war in Afghanistan to Iraq, and America transfixed on the new conflict. Once the war in Iraq ended in 2010, so did America’s interest in the Afghan war.

The apathy continues, as does the violence overseas. According to The New York Times, the Department of Defense has confirmed 2,285 American service members “have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations” as of Dec. 26, 2013. The number of Afghan civilians killed or wounded as a result of the war rose 23 percent in the first six months of 2013, with women and children being killed by roadside bombs almost daily, according to The New York Times. More than 19,000 soldiers have been wounded in the Afghan war since 2001, not including those suffering from various psychological traumas (estimates of troops with PTSD who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are as high as 336,000).

It’s obvious to anyone that the effects of war are devastating. Troops are sent overseas to fight and protect, thousands are killed or physically and mentally wounded and not properly cared for when they come home. Thousands of innocent Afghan civilians and allies suffer similar fates.

The United States’ goals in the war in Afghanistan as a result of the 9/11 attacks mainly focused on eliminating al Qaeda presence and releasing Afghanistan of Taliban control. While the former has been realized, in Afghanistan at least, the Taliban insists that its movement is strong and are “determined to expel foreign forces,” according to the Washington Post.

So how does the United States fully succeed in what was labeled operation Enduring Freedom 12 years ago? It is clear the U.S. administration doesn’t think Afghan forces can hold off the Taliban on its own, thus the push for Karzai to sign the bilateral security agreement that would extend the U.S. troops’ stay. But when they do leave, whenever that might be, what happens if the Taliban regains control? Does that mean we haven’t succeeded in what we set out to try to do?

Afghanistan was in trouble when the war started in 2001. Twelve years later, it’s far from the ideal situation. U.S. presence hasn’t intimidated the Taliban, and when American troops leave, whether it’s 2014 or 2024, Afghan forces will inherit a huge task in trying to stabilize the country and keep the Taliban from gaining ground.

It’s clear what’s happened up until this point hasn’t been working for any parties. It’s important to recognize that if continued U.S. military presence hasn’t worked so far, it might not work in the future. And since it’s highly unlikely that American troops will remain in Afghanistan forever, there needs to be a more sustainable solution if we truly want to help Afghan forces build a better country.

It’s also important to recognize that we’re still at war. In the 12 years it’s taken the United States to get to this point, media and public attention has waned. But people are still dying in Afghanistan. The fighting is not over and it won’t be over once U.S. troops leave. Afghan forces will still be up against the Taliban, but they would be in a much more advantageous position if the U.S. worked to set up institutions through which the country is able to sustain itself, not just in the immediate aftermath of troop withdrawal, but well into the future.

Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]