Seeking to speed up the timetable to end the 12-year-old Afghan War, President Barack Obama met with 55-year-old Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accelerate the U.S. troop withdrawal. Expected to pull out U.S. troops in late 2014, the U.S. has sacrificed 2,175 soldiers since Operation Enduring Freedom began Oct. 7, 2001. While there’s been periods of heated combat, the Afghan War has been asymmetric and low-intensity, resembling a guerrilla war more than a military conflict. It’s didn’t take long for the Taliban to flee Kabul Nov. 14, 2001, despite boasting a great victory over the former Soviet Union Feb. 15, 1989. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan Dec. 24, 1979, former President Jimmy Carter lashed out, canceling U.S. participation in the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Carter’s actions gave GOP presidential candidate Ronald Reagan plenty of reason to criticize the 39th president.
Carter’s fortunes weren’t helped by the botched April 24, 1979 “Operation Eagle Claw, attempting to rescue 52 U.S. hostages kept in captivity 444 days by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei from Nov. 4, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981. Canceling the Olympics gave Reagan the shot in the arm needed to march toward a landslide victory Nov. 5, 1980. No one knew then that a future President George W. Bush would make Iraq, not Iran, his target, starting the Iraq War March 20, 2003. When Bush shifted attention to Iraq, Afghanistan floundered, detouring the war on terror to Iraq. For eight years the Iraq War took precedence until Bush left office Jan. 20, 2009. President Barack Obama finally fulfilled his campaign promise to end the Iraq War Dec. 31, 2011, nearly three years after taking office. Now Barack’s energy is focused on ending a futile guerrilla war and nation-building project in Afghanistan.
Unlike the more intense Soviet Afghan War, the U.S. War has produced far fewer casualties but has put Afghan into the hands of a Taliban sympathizer with Karzai. Mounting Soviet casualties, largely due to a well-funded U.S.-backed anti-Soviet insurgency led by radical Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, hit 14,453 in the nine years of combat [1979-1989], eventually leading to the Nov. 10, 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union Dec. 15, 1992. While the U.S. Afghan war yielded less casualties than the Soviets, the costs of former President George W. Bush’s nation-building project have been staggering. “Make no mistake: Our path is clear and we are moving forward,” said Obama. “Next year, this long war will come to a responsible end,” not sure what the future holds for Afghanistan, especially whether Karzai can keep the Taliban out of power.
When Operation Enduring Freedom began Oct. 7, 2001, the goal was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Bush promised he wouldn’t use the military for nation-building but quickly lost focus in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Obma fled Afghanistan around Dec. 14-16, 2001, leaving the mission in doubt. With the Taliban out, the Bush administration worked hard to establish a democratic regime, eventually supporting Karzai for President Dec. 7, 2004. Since then, Karazi’s played both sides against the middle, supporting the U.S. while, simultaneously, condemning the U.S. for Predator Drone strikes on his Taliban Pashtun brothers. Most U.S. military experts see Afghanistan as a bottomless pit with no end in sight. Leaving Afghanistan in 2014 hands the Taliban a new opportunity to once-and-for-all finish off Karzai and return to power.
Karzai and Obama have argued by granting U.S. troops immunity should they stay as a security force beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline. “From my perspective at least, it will not be possible for us to have any kind of U.S. troops presence post-2014,” said Obama without an immunity agreement. After spending nearly $1 trillion and costing 2,175 U.S. lives, the public has soured on Afghanistan. “At the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices that were made by those men and women in uniform has brought about the goal that we sought,” said Barack, trying to find a silver lining. When the U.S. finally got Bin Laden May 1, 2011, it wasn’t necessary to maintain 66,000 troops in Afghanistan. Once the U.S. military is mobilized and based in foreign lands, it’s often difficult to end deployments. Staying 12 years in Afghanistan has cost t he U.S. dearly.
Speaking in early December, Karzai told NBC News that the U.S. couldn’t stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal agreement unless they turned over hundreds of battlefield detainees held at Bagram Air Force Base. Karzai’s demand reflects his dual loyalty to, on the one hand, fighting the war on terror, and, on the other, placating the Taliban to save his hid. Having survived years of assassination attempts, Karzai has made deals with the enemy to finally get the U.S. out. So far, Karzai has been ambiguous at best of granting Obama’s request for immunity for U.S. troops. “We can consider that question. I can go to the Afghan people and argue for it,” Karzai told NBC News. Karzai told NBC News that the U.S. must respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and not injure any civilians. After sacrificing so much, the U.S. must make a clean break and wish Karzi good luck.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging the Bullet and Operation Charisma.