UPDATE 10/21/11: The remaining troops in Iraq are coming home at the end of 2011.
Originally posted 8/19/10: Sometimes as parents we find ourselves in the craggy spot between a rock and a hard place, trying to navigate our way out of a difficult situation. Which is the right path? The just and prudent path? The easy or the hard way? The President’s task as Commander in Chief is parallel to our own in some regards when it comes to setting a course in times of conflict. MAMAs consider all the circumstances and make the best decision we can and move our troops forward. If we need to make adjustments along the way, we do. But, we have a mission… and we always have an exit strategy.
Now that our combat troops are leaving Iraq, and our mission there has changed from a war effort to civil support, the only “official” war we are engaged in is in Afghanistan. On June 7, 2010, the US-Afghanistan War became our country’s longest war, spanning almost 9 years (106 months). The reasons for the length of the war are complex…the solutions, like the terrain, even more complex.
Afghanistan is a country of rocky territory with plenty of pitfalls and complicated historical issues to negotiate. Clearly, the path forward is not easy to find. Ultimately, the President committed more troops, in rapid deployment, and communicated that our mission is not to occupy the nation, but to finish the job begun years ago. He stated that our goals are: defeating al Qadea, stabilizing Pakistan and breaking the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan. Those are the new measures of “winning” the war. (Reading between the lines…Pakistan has nuclear weapons and the bad guys cannot get their hands on!)
Congress just passed the budget to continue the war effort. NATO allies seem to be on board with the new U.S. plan, pledging another 10,000 troops of their own. Now, General Petraeus is leading the charge with his counterinsurgency strategy. So, it seems the U.S. has the resources and a kinda sorta deadline…July 2011 is when we will begin to draw down troops from Afghanistan. The date has been bantered around, like when we say “your room better be cleaned up in 5 minutes” but, it really depends on the situation on the ground – so, if “your bed is made, but your clothes still need to be picked up off the floor” what we really mean is that we’ll see where we are in 5 minutes and what else absolutely needs to be done before we can leave.
The President made clear that the U.S. is not interested in staying in Afghanistan indefinitely, but will offer training to Afghani security forces. He said, ”We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan.” Yikes. We are teaching the Afghans to protect themselves and build up their own nation. The problem seems to be a corrupt government and semi-apathetic Afghan forces?! Yikes.
There is no easy solution in Afghanistan. It is expensive in dollars and blood shed. There are porous borders, a history of violent insurgents vying for control, tribal dynamics, political chaos and apparent distain for the West. How to negotiate the crags is an issue, but the U.S. and its NATO allies find themselves literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. We need some leverage. What can we do to get unstuck? We cannot promise an uncorrupt government. We cannot promise energized, focused Afghan forces. We cannot promise to protect the citizens that help us. We cannot promise to capture Osama Bin Laden. We cannot promise that the Taliban will stop their ruthless practices. We cannot promise that we will do no harm. What can we promise that will make a difference? Hope. We can empower the people of Afghanistan to hope for their own future…to inspire them to demand an uncorrupt government, to want to protect themselves, their villages and their schools…they need to want it more than we want it for them. Otherwise, whatever temporary issues we fix, will not stick.
Those that we ask to do our bidding do not go to the conflict zones as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans, unified in their objectives. Pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, not a political party. They are the ones who know that it’s their calling to stop the ones who would do our country harm. Our soldiers go where they are told to go and do what they are told to do, until they are called home. These are our children…we need to figure out how to get some real leverage in this difficult situation, and inspire the people of Afghanistan, or we need to hit the road and make our way back home.