The War in Afghanistan is the longest in US history and the most expensive, at $1 million per soldier and over $100 billion annually. There have been over 2,300 US and coalition casualties, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths. Nearly 600 US troops are wounded every month. So it comes as little surprise that opposition to the war is growing: 51 percent of Americans now think the US should not be involved in Afghanistan; a stunning 72 percent—including 61 percent of Republicans—favor Congressional action this year to speed up the withdrawal of troops.
And now, the main justification articulated for continuing the war—to prevent the Taliban from establishing a safe haven for Al Qaeda—is once again undermined by a just-released report from NYU’s Center on International Cooperation. According to the New York Times, the report concludes, “The Afghan Taliban have been wrongly perceived as close ideological allies of Al Qaeda, and they could be persuaded to renounce the global terrorist group.”
The authors—Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn—are researchers and writers based in Kandahar. They have worked in Afghanistan since 2006, focusing on the Taliban insurgency and the history of southern Afghanistan over the past four decades.
The authors argue that “the Taliban and al-Qaeda remain distinct groups with different goals, ideologies, and sources of recruits; there was considerable friction between them before September 11, 2001, and today that friction persists.” One key difference between the groups is that “the leaders of the Afghan Taliban do not see themselves in a conflict that extends beyond the borders of Afghanistan….Calls to jihad have been limited to assets or troops within Afghanistan.”
But the report cautions that current US policy in Afghanistan—especially night raids and attempts to fragment the Taliban—are inadvertently creating opportunities for Al Qaeda by making the Taliban younger and more radicalized.
A wiser policy, according to the report, would be to engage older Taliban leaders and pursue a negotiated settlement: “Many Taliban leaders of the older generation are still potential partners for a negotiated settlement. They are not implacably opposed to the US or the West in general but to specific actions or policies in Afghanistan….They are not seeking a return to the failed interactions between the Taliban and the international community of the 1990s. At present they still represent the movement.”
But without such a change in course, a war that seems increasingly without purpose continues to rage. For a closer look at what soldiers are experiencing right now—the sheer madness of what is being asked of them and the costs to Afghans as well—take thirty minutes to check out this extraordinary episode of BBC’s Panorama: “The Battle for Bomb Alley.”
Watch what the US 3rd Battalion 5th Marines “Lima Company” experiences as they attempt to move by foot just 900 meters over 3 days on Pharmacy Road. The road is described by some as “the most lethal in the world,” riddled with IEDs. It was cleared by the British only 14 months ago—one soldier cleared 31 IEDs in a single day only to be killed a few days later doing the same thing—and now US troops have returned to do it again.
They attempt to avoid the IEDs by blasting through buildings along a route parallel to Pharmacy Road. Most of the buildings aren’t abandoned, and translators attempt to communicate to Afghans how they can be compensated for their homes. One Marine gives a man cash as his home is demolished.
“You won’t see this in any hearts and minds manual,” says reporter Ben Anderson.
“Most people in the world probably wouldn’t understand,” says the Commanding Officer, Captain Matt Peterson, “you’re trying to build a country up by destroying it. But those are people who’ve not been to Afghanistan.”
The Marines try to stick to rooftops where possible because the IEDs are less prevalent. But they find them there too.
Lance Corporal Blake Hancock, 21 years old, describes his experiences with IEDs. “I hate going into alleyways, choke points, intersections. Most every intersection we’ve either found IEDs or been hit by IEDs. Pretty much scares the crap out of you. With IEDs it’s all luck. I’ve been really lucky I haven’t stepped on one.”
Watch the documentary, and then forward the link to your friends and family as well. If you were silent in your opposition to the war before you probably won’t be anymore.