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The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Don’t Expand Occupation of Afghanistan — End It

Capital Times Editorial

"I know that Obama's election has brought great hopes to peace-loving people in the United States. But for Afghans, Obama's military buildup will only bring more suffering and death to innocent civilians ..." - Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya

The only humane and proper response to the mess in Afghanistan is the rapid withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from that country.

The makers of the brilliant documentary "Rethink Afghanistan" have after interviewing savvy diplomats, honest intelligence operatives and frustrated military men and women - as well as human rights activists, feminists and sincere reformers in Afghanistan - advise President Obama:

"Expanding the war in Afghanistan will make Americans less safe, not more so. Less than 100 members of al-Qaida remain in Afghanistan. The Karzai government we once supported is controlled by warlords and is riddled with corruption. Pakistan's stability will be gravely imperiled by an expansion of the war. Hundreds if not thousands of troops will be killed, along with countless civilians.

"Anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world will be inflamed by civilian bloodshed, facilitating recruitment by terrorist organizations. The war will cost billions of dollars when we can least afford it, and will stymie your domestic agenda. The cost of sustaining a military force in Afghanistan is $1 million per soldier per year - that's close to $100 billion annually with the troop increase. With the economy in shambles, the deficits generated by these enormous costs will compromise your domestic legislative agenda both fiscally and politically.

"The United States has no vital interest in Afghanistan. If you choose to further escalate troop levels in Afghanistan, you will be making the biggest mistake of your presidency."

These points are have been confirmed again and again by savvy observers who have been on the ground in Afghanistan, including Americans such as Matthew Hoh, a decorated military officer and diplomat who until this summer served as the senior U.S. civilian official in that country's strife-torn Zabul province.

Says Hoh: "The presence of our ground combat troops is not doing anything to defeat al-Qaida."

So what are our troops doing there?

"We're involved in a civil war in Afghanistan," explains Hoh, who recently resigned from the U.S. foreign service because of his objections to the occupation. "We're only taking one side in that civil war. And our presence there is only encouraging the civil war to go on."

Hoh and others like him, in the U.S. and Afghanistan, are the voices of reason. Unfortunately, it appears that Obama has chosen not to listen to the voices of reason.

All indications are that Obama will announce on Tuesday plans to surge as many as 34,000 more troops to dramatically extend the U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan, and in the dirty work of defending what is unquestionably one of the most corrupt governments on the planet.

So what will U.S. troops being doing in Afghanistan? The president would have us believe they are on some sort of humanitarian mission.

This is not the case. They have been placed in the awful position of defending the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai, who secured the presidency of Afghanistan through foreign interventions, intimidation and election fraud.

Karzai is a despicable despot. The notion that one drop of American or Afghan blood would be shed in his defense is not just unsettling. It is grotesque.

Obama should listen to the honest democrats and feminists in Afghanistan, who for years have been arguing for an end to a U.S. occupation that protects Karzai's warlords and drug runners while doing nothing to improve the circumstance of the great mass of Afghan people.

In her compelling new book, "A Life Among the Warlords," Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya concludes her call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops with a direct message to the president:

"I hope that the lessons in this book will reach President Obama and his policymakers in Washington, and warn them that the people of Afghanistan reject their brutal occupation and their support of the warlords and drug lords.

"In Afghanistan, democratic-minded people have been struggling for human and women's rights for decades. Our history proves that these values cannot be imposed by foreign troops. As I never tire of telling my audiences, no nation can donate liberation to another nation. These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves."

This occupation is wrong. It needs to end. And it can end responsibly.

Matthew Hoh offers a reasoned, experience-based proposal for an exit strategy:

"You're either characterized as all in or all out, and that's wrong. I don't think anyone is calling for us to completely wash our hands of Afghanistan and just walk away. When I call for withdrawal I call for stopping combat operations because it just doesn't make any sense; all it does is just prolong the conflict. I call for some kind of political reconciliation to end the fighting there. So a withdrawal would have to be somewhat gradual while negotiations were going on."

The proper response to the president's announcement is to recognize that the president is wrong. Then act. Join groups such as the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, and Progressive Democrats of America in arguing: "We need an exit strategy from Afghanistan."

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