American troops have been fighting in Afghanistan for over twelve years. At the beginning American working people might have had some idea—right or wrong—what the war was about. But now, after over 3,500 soldiers and Marines have been killed and thousands more grievously wounded, no one seems to remember why they are there and for what reason they have died.
In communities all over the United States people are hearing from their sons and daughters who are deployed to the Afghan war zone: they don’t understand why they are there. The Afghan people don’t want them there. They can’t trust that the Afghan troops—who are supposed to be their allies—won’t turn on them in a firefight. These young men and women, who went into the Armed Forces because they had no other job opportunities, often volunteered for duty in Afghanistan because of the premium pay they would earn for combat service. That little bit of extra cash is nothing compared to what these young people have sacrificed, even those who have come home with no physical wounds.
The tragedy that is Afghanistan has been over three decades in the making. American foreign policy under six presidents has brought this unfortunate country to the state that it is in today. When Soviet troops intervened in the 1980s to defend a progressive Afghan government, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency organized an insurgency led by reactionary tribal leaders and opium poppy planters. This was the beginning of the Taliban. The CIA helped to recruit foreigners from fundamentalist sects of Islam to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, including a young man from a wealthy Saudi family named Osama bin Ladin. This was the beginning of al-Qaeda.
Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda have “Made in U.S.A.” stamped all over them. Americans have been dying in conflict with forces originally organized by their own government. It is tragic and unnecessary!
The failure of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a big contributing factor to the demise of the Soviet Union itself, which multinational oil companies saw as an opportunity to exploit the oil and gas resources of the former Central Asian Soviet republics and the underwater reserves under the Caspian Sea. U.S. corporations, including Halliburton, began developing plans to build a pipeline across Afghanistan to ports on the Indian Ocean. Some geologists believe as well that Afghanistan has considerable untapped mineral resources. The big business executives and their friends in Washington are concerned that it should be U.S. business that reaps the profits from building a pipeline, transporting oil and gas, and exploiting newly-discovered mineral resources, rather than Russian or Chinese interests. Should American working men and women in uniform be fighting and dying for the profits of these corporations?
At a time when politicians in Congress and state legislatures are complaining of fiscal deficits and threatening to cut earned benefits, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other programs which benefit working people, the unemployed, and the sick and disabled, the continued occupation of Afghanistan is costing a staggering amount of money. The estimate for fiscal year 2014 is $79.5 billion (according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation), or about the same amount as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). That $79.5 billion does not include the cost of caring for wounded veterans nor the burdens placed on social service agencies by unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other problems faced by the young men and women returning from the war zone.
The overwhelming majority of the American people would much prefer that the tens of billions of dollars going down the sinkhole of an unwinnable war in Afghanistan be spent instead on jobs, infrastructure, education, the environment, and safety net programs here at home.
How can the astronomical cost of continued military operations and occupation of Afghanistan be justified in 2014? Today, Osama bin Ladin—whose presence in Afghanistan was the original pretext for war—is dead. By the CIA’s own estimates, there are no more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Much of the country is under the control of local warlords, some affiliated with the Taliban, but none is strong enough to threaten anyone outside of Afghanistan, least of all the United States of America.
Why do U.S. troops continue to fight and die there? Why are billions of dollars diverted from human needs in the United States to a useless conflict abroad?
The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the U.S. and the Afghan government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, which allows the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, is due to expire at the end of 2014. A new BSA has been negotiated which would allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely after 2014, but Karzai has thus far refused to sign it. Karzai is justifiably angry about civilian casualties and about U.S. troops’ searches of civilian homes and restrictions on civilian travel. Should the agreement not go into effect, the U.S. will have to withdraw all its forces, as it was required to do from Iraq in 2011.
Karzai’s term of office ends in April 2014, and he is not allowed to seek another term. Whether his successor will be willing to sign a new BSA with the United States cannot be predicted. According to David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, writing in the January 26, 2014, issue of the New York Times, the U.S. intelligence community is concerned that if a BSA is not renewed, “they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.” They go on to say, “If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed…because [they] could no longer be protected.”
An end to the drone warfare, which has caused hundreds of civilian deaths in the region, is something that working people in the United States should support. Our security is harmed, not helped, by drone warfare, aside from the obvious injustice of killing people who were never a threat.
President Obama, in his State of the Union message delivered on January 28, 2014, said, “More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” But then he went on to say, “If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaeda.” American working people have a right to ask, “Will the Afghanistan war really be over?”
There is nothing beneficial to American working people in a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, no matter how reduced in size and activity it might be. It is time to bring all the troops home now. Too many—both Americans and Afghans—have died already.
There is barely a whisper coming from the politicians in Washington in opposition to continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and not a peep for bringing the troops home immediately. It is the labor movement’s responsibility to organize its own membership as part of a broad coalition with community-based organizations which are working for peace, and faith groups to come out into the streets in massive numbers, showing clearly that for American working people the time for bringing their young people in uniform home is now.