This week the death toll of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan passed 2,000. As we mourn the loss of so many Americans, it is also important to remember the hundreds of service members from other countries and tens of thousands of Afghans who have lost their lives in a war that has continued now for more than 10 years. For what?
Many consider the war a response to 9/11, but none of the terrorists who attacked the United States on that day were from Afghanistan or Pakistan. There has been no recorded incident of a Taliban terrorist attack outside the war zone. Al Qaeda has been weakened over the past decade, not from our pursuit of a futile counterinsurgency war, but largely because they have alienated many potential supporters through their indiscriminate attacks against fellow Muslims.
The Taliban regime was driven from power in November 2001, but it has been replaced by a corrupt, feckless regime unworthy of the sacrifice of our troops. The Taliban has revived and is leading what General Petraeus calls an ‘industrial strength’ insurgency, which has regained control over much of the country and has spread to dominate substantial parts of northern Pakistan.
Some Americans believe this war has made our country safer, but our military presence in Afghanistan motivates many to fight us and has strengthened the very extremist groups we seek to suppress. The war has drained hundreds of billions of dollars from our depleted treasury and undermined our credibility and political standing in many parts of the world.
The human and financial costs of the war will continue for many decades here at home, borne by the tens of thousands of troops who sustained serious injuries and the hundreds of thousands who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The one positive note in an otherwise bleak picture is the success of international aid efforts in supporting small but significant improvements in the lives of ordinary Afghans. If there is anything to be salvaged from more than 10 years of engagement in Afghanistan, it is the message that Afghanistan needs investment in peace and development, not war.
War is not the way to end terrorism. It is long past time to bring the troops home and support an international mission to negotiate a peace settlement in the region.