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Why are we in Afghanistan?


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POSTED: Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nearly eight years have passed since U.S. troops entered Afghanistan to hunt down the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on America. Although Osama bin Laden remains at large, his al-Qaida forces are said to have dwindled to fewer than 300, mostly in Pakistan, and President Barack Obama needs to justify the purpose of continued military presence in Afghanistan.

The war in Iraq was one of choice, and a bad one at that after it became clear that Saddam Hussein lacked weapons of mass destruction, a nuclear program or any role in the terrorist attack on America. The war in Afghanistan was one of necessity, as the country's Taliban government had provided al-Qaida a safe haven.

Obama said as much when he campaigned for president, and he is following his pledge to reduce troops in Iraq and increase the effort in Afghanistan. He already has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the forces there to 68,000 by the end of this year. The 51 troops killed there in August mark the highest toll in any month since the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

Some 1,500 Hawaii troops are now in Afghanistan; 42

military service members with isle ties have died in that war.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee this week that “;a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces and, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance.”;

That is called nation-building, and it was not what most Americans understood the effort to be. Democrats in Congress now are questioning what the U.S. goals are in Afghanistan, what they will entail and how long it will take.

Obama insists he will not allow Afghanistan to be his administration's Vietnam. “;You have to learn lessons from history,”; he said. “;On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam.”;

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, questioned the wisdom of U.S. policy in Afghanistan in February in a column on the Politico Web magazine. He stated his opposition to committing “;a single soldier, sailor, airman or Marine to Afghanistan.”;

He wrote, “;Classic counterinsurgency doctrine depends on an indigenous government we can support, but the current national government in Afghanistan doesn't remotely qualify, unless one considers a corrupt government bordering on a kleptocracy, with little real power over 90 percent of the country, as 'worthy.'”;

The recent presidential election in Afghanistan bolsters Abercrombie's assessment. European Union monitors have estimated that one-third of the votes that gave incumbent President Hamid Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote are suspicious and should be examined for fraud. Various reports have characterized the election as a sham. Karzai calls the vote “;true and fair.”;

Abercrombie backs financial, logistic, intelligence and other support of the Afghan government and security forces. But the Obama administration would be prudent to move away from what Abercrombie calls “;fanciful and messianic visions of 'fixing' a nation that is simply not fixable by outsiders.”;