Commentary

The Case for a US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

America remains at war in Afghanistan. After almost 15 years it’s time to bring the last troops home.

In October 2001 George W. Bush sent US forces to destroy Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization and oust the Taliban government which hosted him. Washington then shifted to nation building. Despite the efforts of some 150,000 foreign troops, the Taliban continues to fight.

Only about 12,000 coalition personnel remain. The 9800-man American contingent was to have been cut in half this year and reduced to 1000 early next year. But last October, the administration decided to slow the planned withdrawal. The total now will drop to 5500 in 2017.

In 2012 Afghanistan became America’s longest military conflict, passing the Vietnam War. What is Washington doing there?

Although US participation in combat has formally ended, American troops remain on call. Last fall, Special Forces helped the Afghan military recapture the city of Kunduz.

In 2012 Afghanistan became America’s longest military conflict, passing the Vietnam War. What is Washington doing there?

After nearly 15 years of support, there’s an air of desperation about Kabul. The “national unity” government remains badly divided. James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, cited the “serious risk of a political breakdown” in Afghanistan.

The authorities remain generally incompetent, ineffective, and “fantastically corrupt,” in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Transparency International ranks the country as 166 out of 168 in corruption. There is little tangible to show for the more than $100 billion in aid provided over the last decade.

The economy is crashing as the flow of foreign money ebbs. According to NPR’s Philip Reeves, “Several hundred thousand Afghans, many of whom are young and middle-class, have left for Europe in search of jobs, education and security.” Only poppy production remains a growth industry.

In 2012 Afghanistan became America’s longest military conflict, passing the Vietnam War. What is Washington doing there?

After nearly 15 years of support, there’s an air of desperation about Kabul. The “national unity” government remains badly divided. James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, cited the “serious risk of a political breakdown” in Afghanistan.

The authorities remain generally incompetent, ineffective, and “fantastically corrupt,” in the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Transparency International ranks the country as 166 out of 168 in corruption. There is little tangible to show for the more than $100 billion in aid provided over the last decade.

The economy is crashing as the flow of foreign money ebbs. According to NPR’s Philip Reeves, “Several hundred thousand Afghans, many of whom are young and middle-class, have left for Europe in search of jobs, education and security.” Only poppy production remains a growth industry.

The chief threat probably is not a complete Taliban triumph-even Mohammad Najibullah’s regime survived three years after Moscow’s 1989 military withdrawal. More likely is a fractured land with a multi-sided conflict continuing for years. That would be a tragedy, but wouldn’t be much different than today.

Petraeus and O’Hanlon claimed that a continued military presence is necessary because Afghanistan is “effectively the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight against extremist forces.” Yet America’s Afghan presence has not deterred Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State from operating in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda as well as the Taliban has found sanctuary in Pakistan, and the Islamic State could do so as well.

Moreover, al-Qaeda has metastasized in Yemen and ISIL has grabbed sections of Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Some bulwark! Who rules Afghanistan and whether Afghanistan remains united are not important, certainly not enough to warrant a well-nigh permanent military commitment to Central Asia.

Afghanistan is a tragedy. Its people have suffered through decades of devastating war. Peace remains far away.

But Washington cannot fix Afghanistan. The US cannot afford the human and financial cost of endless war. It’s well past time to bring home America’s military personnel.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, specializing in foreign policy.