President Obama addressed the nation on June 22 to explain his strategy for troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. Of the 100,000 U.S. troops currently deployed there, the announced drawdown of 10,000 soldiers by year's end and another 23,000 by September 2012 does little to end the longest war in U.S. history. Under this plan, approximately 70,000 troops will remain in the country, roughly twice as many as when Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. According to the president, these troops will be removed "at a steady pace" through 2014. In the meantime, the human and financial costs of this war will continue to grow.
There is no military solution to the complex and long-standing sociopolitical problems facing Afghanistan and the region. As long as a U.S. policy of large-scale military aggression continues, Afghans will resist what they perceive as another foreign invasion and occupation of their country. We need a new vision and approach in Afghanistan. This starts with a cease-fire and a full withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. To lay the groundwork for domestic stability and security, Afghanistan needs an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process and the diplomatic and humanitarian support of a broad-based international coalition.
Since 2001, 1,657 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. Nearly 11,200 American soldiers have been wounded. The exact number of Afghans and Pakistanis killed and maimed due to this war is unknown, but a Brown University study put the figure at tens of thousands. A large proportion of these casualties are the result of strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), which many in the international community argue are illegal. The deadliest month for Afghan civilians since the war began occurred last May. Just this month the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan admitted to killing innocent women and children during an airstrike on insurgents, and indicated that they are investigating a separate case of civilian causalities. These are common and unpreventable occurrences in any war, and the war in Afghanistan is no different. Since World War I, there have been far more civilian casualties than military casualties in the major wars involving the U.S., and the ratio gets greater with each new war.
Support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has dropped considerably since last year. A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that a majority (56%) of Americans want troops pulled from Afghanistan as soon as possible. The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution on June 20 that called on leaders in Washington to "bring war dollars home to meet vital human needs." Veterans For Peace recently signed on to a letter urging members of Congress to support an amendment to the FY12 Defense Appropriations Bill that would eliminate the funding needed to continue the war. The letter also calls on the Congress "to redirect our national priorities away from militarism and towards social justice here at home."
According to National Priorities Project, the cost of the war in Afghanistan since 2001 is now more than $432 billion, and rising at a rate of about $2.3 billion a week. A total of $459.8 billion has been appropriated for the war through the end of the current fiscal year (Sept. 30). For the same amount of U.S. taxpayer money, the following could have been provided: 7.0 million elementary school teachers for one year, or; 94.6 million people receiving low-income healthcare for one year, or; 82.8 million students receiving Pell Grants of $5,550. Over the past decade war spending has contributed to a massive national debt and record budget deficits at the federal, state and local levels. The economic crisis has some lawmakers advocating for austerity measures that would slash funding for essential public social services, which would further damage our economy and hurt Americans already struggling to make ends meet.
The Obama administration must refocus its priorities and strengthen its commitment to the American people. The President touched on this subject briefly in his speech, stating that "We must invest in America's greatest resource—our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries." However, a shift from rhetoric to reality will require Mr. Obama and the Congress to move a significant amount of federal spending away from the military and toward the urgent needs of American communities. Bringing the war in Afghanistan to an immediate end is a good start.
Brian J. Trautman is a U.S. Army veteran, peace educator and activist, and member of Veterans For Peace. He resides in Albany, N.Y.