This week marks 8 years of war in Afghanistan. There appears to be, for the first time, a glimmer of a genuine debate about how this country should move forward. Those who are clamoring for a new and speedy infusion of troops are ratcheting up the pressure in an attempt to cut off this badly needed debate. If they are not countered powerfully enough, their arm-twisting could mean we end up doubling down on a failing strategy. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. 1,425 soldiers have died in Afghanistan so far, including 853 Americans. For those who are lucky enough to return alive, the trauma of serving in combat can often still lead to tragic consequences. The federal government estimates that 5,000 veterans commit suicide every year, and the Army reported a record 140 active duty suicides last year.
2. While it is difficult to know exactly how many civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, estimates range from 12,000 to 32,000 deaths directly and indirectly caused by war. The real tragedy is behind the numbers, because each death has meant the loss of a child, a family breadwinner, a caretaker, or a community leader. Each death has contributed to the unraveling of the fabric of Afghan society, and has been one more step away from peace and stability.
3. Nearly one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and they are forced to grapple with the stigma of mental illness as they return to a nation that shamefully fails to treat their physical and mental injuries.
4. More troops are not the answer. Afghanistan expert Gilles Dorronsoro writes, "The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban." Military occupation, with its attendant civilian death and displacement, creates greater instability. A recent RAND Corporation report declares that there is "no battlefield solution to defeating Al Qaeda," noting that in the past 40 years, only 7% of terrorist groups that ceased to exist were defeated through military force.
5. While members of Congress argue that they can't find the funds to insure the 45,000 uninsured Americans who die every year, our government has spent $228 billion on a war that has done nothing to protect us from Al Qaeda, and is about to pass another $68 billion for Afghanistan for 2010. With President Obama's shift to focusing on Afghanistan, the cost of the war is skyrocketing, and would grow even more if he sent additional troops.
6. There are real alternatives that emphasize civilian tools like diplomacy, development and political reconciliation over our current failing strategy. A wide variety of people agree that we need a real "civilian surge" and a lighter military footprint, from Afghanistan and regional experts, to military personnel and policymakers.
7. The majority of Americans oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan. However the political pressure on the president to agree to an additional 45,000 troops is already enormous, and it's building. That's why people who oppose the war need to come out loud and strong this anniversary.
8. You can honor those who've died or been hurt in the war by calling for its end. We need to show President Obama, Congress, and the media that the majority of Americans who oppose escalation in Afghanistan will not be silent. Join us in our Facebook Vigil at the White House here.