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Last Updated:6/6/11

Worcester Telegram

Change Course in Afghanistan

By Matthew Hoh and James McGovern
Worcester Telegram
20 July 2011

A few weeks ago, President Obama outlined his strategy for Afghanistan, which included a drawdown of 10,000 troops by the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by the end of next year. 

This is insufficient, and we fear that it means more of the same for the next 18 months. It would mean the same strategy with the same costs and, sad to say, even more casualties. It would mean more American soldiers losing their lives in support of an Afghan government that is terribly corrupt and incompetent. 

We've been doing this for 10 years. It is the longest war in our history. We don't need to wait 18 more months to change course. We need to do it now. 

Our focus should be on encouraging a negotiated settlement and on bringing our troops home where they belong. We need an intense international and regional effort to secure a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

The U.S. successfully destroyed al-Qaida's base of operations in Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago following the Sept. 11 attacks. Even before that point, al-Qaida operated as a dispersed and worldwide network; they are even more decentralized now. 

Al-Qaida terrorists work as individuals or small cells and a successful campaign does not require 100,000 or even 70,000 combat boots on the ground in Afghanistan. The raid by U.S. commandos that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan only confirmed what many Americans already knew: There is little connection between the fighting and dying being done by our young men and women in Afghanistan's valleys, farmlands and cities and keeping our nation safe from a terrorist attack. 

Simply removing the 30,000 "surge" troops from Afghanistan - the second set of increased deployments ordered by President Obama in 2009 resulting in 65,000 total additional troops - means that by the end of 2012 we will still have 70,000 combat troops in Afghanistan. These American soldiers will continue to fight a war that policymakers now realize and insist can only end with a political solution, not a military solution. 

These troops will also continue dying in record numbers. U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are steadily rising. This spring was the deadliest spring of the war for U.S. forces, with record casualties for American service members in March, April and May. 

We are borrowing nearly $10 billion a month to pay for military operations in Afghanistan. We're not paying for it, we're putting it on our national credit card. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price. Each day we remain in Afghanistan increases that burden. 

We are currently having debates about how to reduce our deficit and debt. There are some who have advocated deep cuts in programs that help the poor, in Pell Grants, and in infrastructure. 

For those who support continuing the war in Afghanistan, we ask: Where is the sense in borrowing money to build a bridge or school in Afghanistan that later gets blown up - while telling our cities and towns that we have no money to help them with their needs? Some of our biggest problems are not halfway around the world; they're halfway down the block. 

Americans are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure our national security. But our national security includes economic security. It means jobs. It means nation building right here at home. 

We are hardly isolationists. We have both been active in America's foreign and military policies, and we firmly support human rights and U.S. engagement around the world. 

We don't believe we should walk away from the Afghan people. But tens of thousands of U.S. boots on the ground in Afghanistan does little to advance the cause of peace, protect the rights of women and ethnic minorities, or strengthen civil society. If we want to protect Afghan women, we must end the violence by ending the war through a political solution. 

It is not easy to end this war. It won't be neat or pretty. But it's in our national security interest to focus on al-Qaida and not waste our precious blood and treasure in a conflict that can only be ended through a political solution. 

Rather than crafting a compromise and trying to chart a middle course, we need to dramatically change course. We believe the president needs to rethink our Afghan policy in a way that brings our troops - all of our troops - home sooner rather than later. 

Rep. James P. McGovern represents the 3rd Congressional District of Massachusetts. Matthew Hoh is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and the director of the Afghanistan Study Group.

Copyright, Worcester Telegram, 2011. Original article available here.

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