Was the effort in Afghanistan worth the lives lost?

Was the effort in Afghanistan worth the lives lost?

Kabul : Afghanistan | Jul 05, 2012 at 6:49 AM PDT
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Obama cements Afghan stay year after Bin Laden's death

Could this Be A Turning Point in Afghanistan?

After the attack on the World Trade Center by al-Qaida operatives on Sept. 11 2001, the civilized world and America were united in its resolve to put an end to the dirty work of al-Qaida. When all the facts were in, it became clear that the Taliban in Afghanistan had been harbouring al-Qaida and were not about to hand over its leader, Osama Bin Laden. This was one time in recent history where America was united in its resolve.

The United States, along with some of its allies, invaded Afghanistan. Tora Bora is touted as the place where the al-Qaida leader slipped through the hands of U.S. Forces. Bin Laden was finally captured and killed in a raid into Pakistan by Navy Seal Team 6. Bin Laden was located next to one of the largest military bases in Pakistan for years. It is doubtful that he was living there without the knowledge of the Pakistani government or military. What now?

Al-Qaida still operates globally. Hamid Karzai announced that "Foreigners, including the United States," had been in discussions with the Taliban. While outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that "Very Preliminary Contact and Outreach" had taken place, he didn't think that anything would happen before the end of 2011. Reason: The U.S. and other foreigners don't know who is speaking on behalf of the Taliban leader.

President Obama has been in decision mode on Afghanistan for a while to determine the size of the draw down of U.S. Forces. Unlike his deliberations, prior to the surge, well-documented by Bob Woodward in "Obama's Wars," this time he apparently had individual consultations and he capped it off with a meeting with Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton.

The decision came at a critical point, when Robert Gates was leaving the Pentagon as Leon Panetta took the helm. Gen. David Petraeus, who wrote the counter-insurgency field manual, became Director of the CIA. Obviously Presient Obama knows Petraeus and Panetta well.

Will the decision be a turning point in the Afghan war?

The decision

During the president's consultation with his staff, there were some that wanted a significant withdrawal, arguing that bin Laden had been removed and that theTaliban for all intent and purposes had been defeated. Robert Gates cautioned that the drawdown should be modest in order to build on the recent gains. Gates, who unequivocally states that it is ultimately the president's decision, suggested that the drawdown be modest and that withdrawal be kept to a bare minimum for at least two more fighting seasons, including 2011.

President Obama, in a prime time address, announced his decision, foreseeing the drawing down of 5,000 troops in 2011 and another 5,000 by winter or spring of 2012. Along with NATO allies the announcement was made to withdraw another 5,000 troops in 2012 leading up to 2013, when full transition to Afhan Security Forces is to be complete, a year earlier than had previously been planned.

The president's detractors have criticized the decision, which basically has given the Taliban and other insurgents a schedule, which they can wait out. The announcement of a schedule on the other hand is intended to put pressure on the Afghan government and to allow commanders on the ground to organize the the relocation of forces and force type.

While there will be NATO residual force in 2014, Australia and France have announced that they will pull back a year early, i.e. in 2013. Canada has announced that its training mission will end in March 2014 with no residual military. Funding and diplomatic support will remain.

Mission accomplished, or not?

President Obama had his "Mission Accomplished" moment on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's capture and death. He secretly traveled to Afghanistan, met with troops, then went to Kabul to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement with Karzai.

Prior to his trip to Afghanistan, the Obama camp put out an ad that touted Obama's success in killing Bin Laden, dubbed over with the comments of former President Bill Clinton, that all but made Obama the hero and risk taker, while inferring that his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, would have reached a different decision. Veterans groups were appalled releasing their own ad, which basically praised the brave men and women of Navy Seal Team six and the intelligence community with the slogan "Heroes don't brag."

In his prime time address to the American people from Kabul, President Obama said in part:

"Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. Read More in my blogspot

Was the War in Afghanistan Worth The Price?

Since writing online, I have published the weekly DoD U.S Casualty Report. As a Canadian I have also published a story for each Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan. Early in the conflict, I knew several soldiers personally. Each death hit me hard.

The National U.S. media seldom mentions deaths in the U.S.; neither are returning coffins shown. In Canada our approach has been different. The Canadian media reported the death of each soldier, showed the ramp ceremony in Kandahar and their arrival in Trenton, Ontario. The family gets to make the decision whether or not the media can attend.

When our fallen return, they are taken to the coroner's office in Toronto. The stretch of highway they travel has been named the "Highway of Heroes" and is lined by ordinary Canadians, policemen and firefighters in a tribute by the Canadian public.

The war in Afghanistan has taken a heavy toll, especially last year and the beginning of this year. Operation Enduring Freedom has taken a total of 1,612 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The U.K. was up to 375, and there have been 156 Canadians killed.

Since the outcome in Afghanistan is not clear and based on a Senate Armed Service Committee report that the Afghan economy is likely to collapse without foreign troops, the question "Was the Afghan War Worth the Price?" is relevant.

The $100 billion or so spend annually are cause for pause. No one will ever replace the young lives of the soldiers nor the civilians killed. One can only hope that at the end of the day Afghanistan emerges as a safe and secure nation. That may be stretching it a bit.

An Afghan Strategic Partnership Treaty was signed in May between the US and Afghanistan. It foresees spending $4.2 Billion, of which the U.S. will cough up half.

This being said, the Taliban have successfully infiltrated Afghan Security Forces and the killing of NATO soldiers by their Afghan partners in uniform has become a common occurrance.

Pakistan, a nation that hosted Bin Laden for years, was given $1 billion along with an apology to permit the reopening of supply routes for NATO troops. It is not difficult to see that without NATO, Afghanistan is far from secure. The key to success would be total co-operation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The likelihood of that occuring is next to nil.

One can only hope that the young lives sacrificed, along with the multitudes of those with mental scars, has not gone in vain. While some things may have improved in Afghanistan, there is still widespread corruption, while the Afghan government is incapable to unite and control the country. The future for Afghanistan is still bleak.

Will it become an election issue? I doubt it, other than on the periphery of foreign policy.

If you like writing about U.S. politics and the 2012 campaign, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.

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Signing of Strategic Partnership Treaty
President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sign the Strategic Partnership Treaty on the eve of Bin Laden's death.
Karl Gotthardt is based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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