US troops need to quit Afghanistan

I have supported our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan but recent events convince me that we should accelerate bringing our troops home.

If the problems we face in Afghanistan could be solved solely by our military, we would have won the war years ago. I have seen firsthand the tough, smart, dedicated U.S. military professionals fighting there. They have performed superbly and continue to make incredible sacrifices on our behalf. We owe them and their families a debt we will never be able to repay.

We certainly owe them more than to ask that they risk death for an Afghan government that too often works at cross-purposes against them.
After my first trip to Afghanistan in April 2009, my major concerns were the competence of the Afghan government, the abilities of President Hamid Karzai, and his unwillingness to deal with his government’s endemic corruption. I pointed out that under the counterinsurgency strategy, which worked in Iraq, a successful outcome was possible only if the Karzai government was a credible partner, and was able to win the support of the Afghan people. That was in doubt back in 2009. It is even more doubtful today.

How infuriating it must be for an American soldier to hear what Karzai said during an interview a couple of weeks ago on GEO TV in Pakistan. “God forbid, he said, “if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan.” More than 1,800 American troops have died in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands have been wounded. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars — fighting for this guy?

You have to sympathize with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller who made the mistake of going on record, characterizing Karzai’s remarks as erratic and inarticulate. His immediate superior in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, had no choice under military regulations. He relieved Fuller of his command. But you have to suspect that privately, he agreed. We all know that what Fuller said was true.

Karzai has repeatedly criticized the NATO-led forces for raids, airstrikes and civilian casualties. He has said they “are in Afghanistan for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they’re using our soil for that.” He is a loose cannon, but just as bad, he has consistently blocked attempts to deal with the incredible corruption in his government.

I’ll cite just two examples out of hundreds just like them and equally outrageous. A Karzai-appointed provincial governor, Ghulam Qawis Abut Bakr, was recently suspended after a yearlong investigation that uncovered proof that he was taking bribes and colluding with the Taliban. Hopes were high for the first conviction of a high-level Karzai government official. But there wasn’t even a phony trial. Charges were simply dropped and the prosecutor on the case was shifted to non-corruption duties.

Mohammad Saddiq Chakari was a member of the Karzai Cabinet, the minister of Hajj and Islamic Affairs. His job was to oversee the Hajj, the pilgrimage by Muslims to Mecca. An investigation, including wiretaps, disclosed that Chakari was using his position to extort bribes from travel agents for the Hajj. When a warrant was issued for his arrest, he was allowed to flee the country after senior Karzai administration figures intervened with the prosecutor. He is now free in the United Kingdom.

Corruption affects everyone in a country where bribes must be paid at all levels to get anything done. For years, polls have shown that Afghans consider corruption to be the country’s biggest problem.

How can we expect them to support a government that refuses to address their concerns? That question leads inevitably to the one we must ask ourselves. How can we win a war when the government we are fighting for cares less about winning than we do?

Our troops have made great progress in destroying the capability of the Taliban and essentially eliminating al-Qaida from Afghanistan. They have done their job. It is time to bring them home.

Originally published 13 Nov 2011 on