The Skeptics

Five Reasons to Withdraw from Afghanistan

Recent events in Afghanistan have raised serious doubts about staying the course, despite testimony this week from General John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that we are making “real” and “sustainable” progress. Here are five reasons why Americans should rethink the war and support an expedient withdrawal.

1. Safe Havens Are Myths

In 2009, President Obama declared that our strategy in Afghanistan had a clear mission: “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.” What was less clear was why bringing a modern army to Afghanistan would stop al-Qaeda from attacking America. Would-be terrorists have reduced their dependence on “base camps” and “physical havens.” They can plan, organize and train from virtually anywhere. The 2008 Mumbai attacks, for example, were planned in the same Hamburg mosque where 9/11 was plotted. Countering al-Qaeda requires discrete operations, intelligence sharing and surgical strikes when necessary. Unfortunately, U.S. officials remain hostage to the outdated notion that a specific territory matters. Many assume incorrectly that the defeat of al-Qaeda depends upon a prolonged troop presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But such a presence is neither necessary nor sustainable.

2. Creating a Self-sufficient Afghan State Is Not an Exit Strategy

Remaining in Afghanistan to the point when locals can stand on their own is the back door to an indefinite presence. A detailed report released last August by the independent, bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting found that the U.S. government contracted for dozens of clinics, barracks, hospitals and other facilities that exceeded Afghan funding capabilities. In essence, the coalition spent tens of billions of dollars to build physical infrastructure that goes beyond the Afghan government’s financial and technical capacity to sustain. The American people have grown increasingly skeptical that a viable and independent Afghan state can be built at a reasonable price. Their cynicism is justified.

3. Al-Qaeda Is Not the Taliban

We’re often told that failure to create a minimally functioning government in Afghanistan will turn that country into a base for the Taliban and hence, al-Qaeda. That argument is specious. It assumes that the Taliban would again host al-Qaeda—the very organization whose protection led to the Taliban’s overthrow—and that terrorists won’t attack America if there’s a Western-backed client regime in Kabul. U.S. leaders have lumped al-Qaeda (a loose jihadist network responsible for 9/11) with the Taliban (an indigenous Pashtun-dominated movement with no global mission). As a result, the United States remains at war with the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami Group and other indigenous militants who pose no threat to America’s sovereignty or physical existence. Meanwhile, America’s suppression of al-Qaeda is not seen as the victory it is.

4. Current Policies Destabilize Pakistan