President Obama recently announced that he is sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But he is still faced with a decision about what to do long term in Afghanistan and with worldwide terrorism. If there is one point of agreement between Republicans and Democrats, it is that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a legitimate response to the Sept. 11 attacks, mainly aimed at bringing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to justice—unlike the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which was bogus, based on the Bush administration’s falsehoods regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links to al Qaeda.
President Obama and Congress must now deal with the root causes of terrorism in Afghanistan and around the world, i.e., poverty, repression, and a sense of injustice that many Muslims feel at the hands of their U.S.-backed governments. After all, terrorism was not a sudden anti-Americanism, but the result of past American policy failures. Muslims don’t hate our freedom; they hate our policies. And our image abroad was not helped by our promoting or condoning torture, disappearances, secret jails, and rendition. Troops and money are not long term solutions to the war in Afghanistan.
What is the cost of the Afghanistan war so far? As of Jan. 29, 640 Americans have died and 1,722 have been seriously wounded; 11,017 Afghan troops and 7,373 civilians have been killed; and 33,051 Afghan troops and 13,271 civilians have been seriously injured. The estimated dollar cost of the war in Afghanistan is estimated to reach $439.8 billion by the end of FY 2009 and at the current rate of spending, could reach $1 trillion by the end of Obama’s first term. Can we afford this expenditure, especially with our faltering economy?
What have we achieved so far? The Taliban have reorganized and now control over 70 percent of the country, up from 50 percent in November 2007, where they collect taxes, enforce Sharia law, and dispense rough justice. But they do succeed in containing crime and corruption, which characterizes Hamid Karzai’s rule. The Taliban is even threatening to surround Kabul.
In addition, neighboring Pakistan—our reluctant ally in fighting the Taliban—is suffering a meltdown under Asif Ali Zardari. His government has lost control of the North-West Frontier Province to the Pakistani Taliban, who now control the Khyber Pass, the key route between Pakistan and Aghanistan through which 70 percent of supplies for U.S. troops pass. The U.S. is now forced to seek alternative routes. And it was recently reported that Pakistan is about to agree to a cease-fire allowing the imposition of Islamic law in the Swat Valley, which will likely increase Taliban influence. Islamic law is already in effect along the Afghan border and elsewhere in Pakistan’s northwest.
Before the U.S. sends more troops or spends more money in Afghanistan, Congress must have full and open hearings on the future of our war on terrorism. Congress cannot just continue to rubber stamp further expenditures of manpower and money as it did during the Bush administration.
Ralph E. Stone is a retired Bay Area attorney.