Sunday, October 7, marks the 11th anniversary of the Afghanistan war, now the longest war in U.S. history. This date provides an opportunity to take stock of what a tragic calamity this war is over a decade after its start, and to examine, once again, why military solutions are not effective in solving deep, systemic complexities of a country like Afghanistan.
Most immediately, the conditions look more dire than ever. The failed troop surge that started in 2009 is over. America officials are giving up hope for reconciliation with the Taliban. More Americans and NATO soldiers are dying from rising insider attacks at the hands of Afghan soldiers, leading to talk of a possible early NATO withdrawal. The arbitrary exit date from Afghanistan is still set for the end of 2014, though no one in Washington can explain the plan for a gradual drawdown or really any strategy for ending the war at this point.
Long term, the numbers of dead, wounded and dollars allocated as a result of this war are staggering:
- An estimated 20,000-plus dead Afghan civilians
- 2,000 dead American troops, and over 1,000 more coalition troop fatalities
- 18,000 wounded NATO troops
- 1,600 American amputees (from Afghanistan and Iraq wars)
- Hundreds of thousands of vets dealing post-traumatic stress disorder
- $1.2 trillion -- $2 billion per week – spent
- At least $55 billion in estimated veteran health care costs ahead, as thousands of vets continue to wait for benefits to materialize
President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials can posture about the sacrifices of troops in this war and how we all must support them now more than ever. Such declarations are an insult to anyone who was sent to this quagmire and now must deal with what is too often the shattered wreckage that is post-war life. What do veterans get when they come back from war? The backend of a 800,000-plus backlog of other veterans waiting for disability benefits; the average wait for a response to a disability claim is about 260 days. In addition, the rates of military suicides, homelessness and unemployment are all at or near record highs. It’s tragic what many veterans face upon return. If government officials put as much effort into caring for troops' well-being after returning from wars as they do for exploiting them before and during combat, these problems may not be so monumental.
As Americans, now is the time to drive home the point with our elected and military officials that throwing troops and cash at historically complicated, troubled areas of the world, like Afghanistan, is not the answer. It has failed time and again.
This goes without mentioning the trillions spent in the last decade on this war and another failed military adventure, the Iraq war. As America’s economy, infrastructure and general welfare of its citizens rapidly declines, how can we not point to flippant war making and profligate Pentagon spending as primary culprits? What about needs at home? Instead of more overseas exploits, officials need to realize our own country is in desperate need of the attention and resources they have squandered this past decade.
Poll after poll signals a complete loss of appetite among the American public for much more of this war. Long ago, American officials decided they need not heed the will of the electorate when it comes to sustained, reckless use of military force.
So what now as we wait for 2014? Those in the halls of power who desperately seek a camera and microphone to offer more empty platitudes will get their way. Afghan civilians will go about their lives, as they’ve seen invading empires come and go, unable to control the region, for centuries. Troops will continue to follow aimless orders. More anger and frustration in Afghanistan will build, meaning more civilians and troops will die.
We as the American public have a choice beyond voicing our disapproval to pollsters. We can elect candidates who have learned lessons from the last decade and are not so quick to try and solve complex international problems with invasions, occupations and drone strikes. We can realize that if we want to bring this thing to an end, we have speak up and mobilize. This is unacceptable, for the Afghan people, for all troops asked to die so a few can control the world, to the families of those who won’t come home, to all Americans that feel the effects of a country more dedicated to war than its people.