No End in Sight for America’s Longest War
As President Obama slows US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, former State Department official Matthew Hoh says this will only intensify the violence and perpetuate the war
KAYLA RIVARA, PRODUCER, TRNN: On Tuesday, March 24th, President Obama agreed to slow the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan at the behest of newly elected Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place. And insurgents still launch attacks, including cowardly suicide bombings against civilians. We will maintain our current posture of 9,800 troops through the end of this year.
RIVARA: But Anand Gopal, who has reported extensively on the war on Afghanistan, said he’s not surprised by this decision.
ANAND GOPAL, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: It’s not surprising that the U.S. is slowing its withdrawal because the Afghan state cannot survive without massive amounts of foreign support.
RIVARA: The news comes on the heels of a recent report that found 220,000 Afghans have been killed indirectly or directly due to the war. Meanwhile, former Bush administration officials defended the war at the George W. Bush Conference at Hofstra University in New York. Panelist Thomas Basile, a former Bush administration advisor to the U.S. Department of Defense said that the U.S. gave Afghanistan an opportunity for freedom.
THOMAS BASILE, FMR. ADVISOR: Today at the White House, former Johns Hopkins University professor and noted economist Ashraf Ghani, the newly elected President of Afghanistan came to Washington to tell the American people thank you for the work that had helped give them a shot. To instead of being a burden to the world, to actually have a shot at a free future.
RIVARA: But journalist and author Anand Gopal, who just returned from Afghanistan, had a different understanding of the war’s impact on the population.
GOPAL: Because these days, a lot of Afghans will tell you they don’t feel a lot of hope. Many Afghan friends I have are wanting to leave the country, they’re trying to relocate. 15 years ago there was hope. And what gave them hope was the fact that the international presence in Afghanistan would bring jobs, would bring development, would bring reconstruction. Most of those things haven’t happened, particularly in the countryside and that’s why there is a deficit of hope.
RIVARA: Former State Department official Matthew Hoh, who in 2009 resigned his post in Afghanistan in protest of the war says the decision to maintain troops only maintains an illegitimate government in Afghanistan and exacerbates the deadly conditions there.
MATTHEW HOH, FELLOW, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: This is a continued commitment to the United States bolstering an illegitimate government. Ashraf Ghani stole his elections just like Hamid Karzai did before him. His theft in the elections was so great that the ballots have never been reported. We don’t even know the number of total ballots cast, or who received how many ballots cast. His running mate is a well-known – his vice president is a well-known war criminal, heavily involved in the drug trade, and he still presides over this vast kleptocracy that our money basically funds a [patronage] network there.
RIVARA: Gopal stresses that the U.S. missed its chance to abate the current security problems in Afghanistan.
GOPAL: Back in 2002 and 2003, the Taliban actually surrendered and tried to switch sides and al-Qaeda had fled the country. So you had a situation where there were thousands of troops on the ground and no enemy to fight. And there was a choice there where the US Could have pursued a strategy of statebuilding, of nationbuilding. But instead it pursued a strategy of counter terrorism, which meant allying with strong men and warlords, people who have terrible human rights records, and through allying with them that actually created the conditions under which the Taliban was able to reconstitute itself.
RIVARA: Almost 14 years after the invasion of Afghanistan many, like Hoh, question what has really been accomplished.
HOH: Certainly in parts of the country, in North and Western Afghanistan, things have improved, because the fighting is no longer occurring there. But in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, things have not improved, have actually gotten worse because the fighting is much heavier there than it was in the late ’90s and in 2001.
And as far as quality of life, health care numbers … the United States government puts out a number that life expectancy has increased by 15 years for the Afghan people. The only people that are using that number is the United States government. Every other world organization, whether it’s the UN, World Health Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, even the CIA does not use that number. Even the Afghan government does not use that number. You actually, if you look at the quality of life increases, the life expectancy increases, you see that in both the Soviet occupation and in the Afghan civil war of the ’90s, life expectancy increased at a higher rate than has increased in Afghanistan since 2001.
RIVARA: To help bolster an alternative, Hoh supports changing course in Afghanistan, and supporting a political solution that doesn’t just favor one side.
HOH: The violence has not abated and actually, since we escalated the war in 2009, the violence has steadily ratcheted up. Every year there’s been an increase in civilian casualties. Every year with an increase in Afghan security forces who are killed.
The answer lies in stop intervening. Stop meddling. Stop trying to pick winners and losers in these conflicts, and start trying to enable and assist in political reconciliation and negotiations. When we come in and we take one side in a conflict, that only makes the other side fight harder, and it gives no incentive to the side who we’re taking to negotiate.
RIVARA: With Jaisal Noor, this is Kayla Rivara reporting for The Real News at Hofstra University.
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