Over the past eleven years, the United States military has occupied Afghanistan while working to defeat the Taliban and stabilize the nation. During that time nearly 2,000 Americans have died in combat, countless more have been severely maimed and still hundreds more have committed suicide as a result of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As the United States prepares to withdraw combat troops at the end of 2014 and hand over security operations to the Afghans, U.S. service members are being killed at a rate of one per day.
Despite the mounting body count and low public support for the war, headlines in American media continue to focus on the election and the economy. Afghanistan did break into the headlines momentarily this month when six Marines were killed in two separate attacks on August 10 by members of Afghan security forces whom the Marines were training. Two more U.S. service members were killed Friday when a trainee in the Afghan Local Police opened fire on them.
According to NBC News, this marked the sixth time in the past two weeks that Afghan security forces or someone impersonating them have opened fire on coalition troops. The Taliban is claiming credit for the attacks, saying that they have successfully infiltrated Afghan security forces.
While the United States continues to spill blood and spend treasure in the isolated and primitive nation, it is not clear what advantages we are gaining by staying through 2014. It is not likely that the notoriously corrupt Afghan government will be any more stable by then, nor is it evident that prolonging the occupation is making America safer, which should be the purpose of military engagement.
As America continues the longest war in the history of our nation, there is no reason to believe that further military involvement in Afghanistan will produce better results. If the United States continued combat operations for another eleven years there is a good chance we would be facing the same problems then as we are now.
Ultimately it will be the Afghans’ responsibility to provide for their own national security, as well as building roads, bridges and schools. While many proponents of prolonging the occupation will argue that if Afghanistan is not “stabilized” before withdrawal, then Islamists will use the country as a staging ground for future attacks on American targets. However the reality is that there are countless “stable” and “unstable” countries across the world where al-Qaeda and its affiliates plot terror attacks against Western targets. The way to deter these threats is to remain vigilant, relying on our intelligence gathering capabilities, our allies and advanced technology to target known terrorists. Invading and occupying nations for over a decade at a time is inefficient, costly, and deadly and may actually encourage more terrorism and insurgency.
While it is easy for American citizens to ignore the ongoing and endless war in Afghanistan, stress continues to mount on service members who are asked to deploy and redeploy to combat zones over and over. It should come as no surprise that suicide rates among veterans and active duty soldiers are far higher than in the general population.
As Rachel Maddow points out in her book Drift, Americans have grown accustomed to endless wars with no clear objectives over the past several years and it is the troops that suffer from it. “No matter how long the troops slog through the muck, no matter how many deployments they endure, the American public can no longer really be touched by war.”
Part of the problem is that there is no sense of shared sacrifice. Not only are average Americans not being asked to serve in the war, they are not even being asked to pay for it. Military spending has exploded over the past decade while both President Bush and President Obama have lowered taxes. Of course Americans will eventually have to pay for the enormous debt that war incurs, but the vast majority will never know the price paid by those who serve in combat.
As Col. Ken Allard pointed out in The Daily Beast in an article entitled: Robert Bales and the Cost of Fighting Wars with Other People’s Kids, “Americans are more likely to know a resident of North Dakota, our least populous state, than an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army. After a decade of continuous war, only 1 percent of our citizens have ever served in uniform.”
Despite the obvious harm multiple deployments are having on the physical and mental health of our soldiers, we continually ask them to serve longer and longer tours of duty as we try to fight a pointless war without interrupting the comfortable lives of average Americans. While this is beyond unfair, no one really seems to care all that much. For all the lip-service paid by politicians, patriots and pundits to honoring our troops, we have in many ways abandoned them, allowing them to suffer through perpetual deployment at the ends of the world while our lives go on uninterrupted.
While our leaders in Washington, including President Obama, have shown little leadership on this issue, in a republic it is ultimately the people’s responsibility to hold our leaders accountable.
Politicians will be politicians and if there is no pressure to do the right thing and change course, maintaining the status-quo will always be more politically convenient. While public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans are against the war in Afghanistan, the issue is receiving little attention. Sadly, Americans are far more concerned with their bank accounts and the election than the well-being of those who sacrifice their own self-interests for the freedom and prosperity we all enjoy.
We, the silent majority who oppose the war, owe it to these brave men and women to make our voices heard in Washington. Unlike most issues that consume our national attention, this one is literally life or death.