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Are We Again Abandoning Afghanistan?

Disparate Voices Call for Immediate, Greater Hands-On U.S. Involvement

January 14, 2002

One of the worst admitted failures of U.S. foreign policy in the last decade of the 20th century was abandoning Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew.  Warlords created widespread havoc, which set the stage for the population to welcome -- at least at first -- the Taliban takeover as a means of restoring order.

Now in the first decade of the 21st century, there's an abandonment of sorts of Afghanistan again being perpetrated by the U.S.  It involves the failure of the United States to adequately play its necessary role in providing medical care, food and security in that nation in this immediate period following the Taliban's downfall.

At least several hundred, more likely thousands of civilians were killed in U.S. airstrikes, so there are doubtless many severely injured people in need of medical assistance.  Despite our moral obligation to assist them, we are apparently doing very little in this regard, as deplorable conditions in hospitals attest.  Why haven't we set up field hospitals and flown patients to our hospital ships or other locations for treatment?

The U.S. bombing campaign undoubtedly made the level of starvation in Afghanistan worse, as food aid truck convoys were halted, and the number of refugees in need of assistance increased.  Yet we're not using our helicopters to ferry food to starving people, nor are we providing any security on the roads to ensure that food already in the country can be delivered to those who desperately need it.

Finally, the U.S. -- after previously preventing the European nations from setting up a peacekeeping force -- has finally acquiesced to the creation of an international peacekeeping force, but refuses to be involved in it.  The lack of security in Afghanistan is not only preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, but severely hampers the central Afghan government -- which is barely in control of Kabul -- from establishing control over other parts of the country.  Such control is a prerequisite to preventing Al Qaeda from setting up shop there again.

People who otherwise agree on very little are recognizing the need for greater U.S. involvement.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise institute, recently called for U.S. forces -- not unreliable and possibly corrupt soldiers loyal to Afghan warlords -- to be searching for bin Laden inside Afghanistan.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, recently echoed those sentiments, and added a few other useful observations.  He notes that we won the war by "remote control," but can not win the peace that way.  For example, our failure to put troops on the ground allowed Osama bin Laden and senior aides to escape Tora Bora.

Going beyond that, Friedman also says that our allies will not be willing to send adequate numbers of peacekeeping forces for a sufficient length of time, unless the U.S. is involved.  Without such a force, the Afghan government will not be able to exert control over the country so as to prevent future re-establishment of terrorist bases.  The warlords are also terrorizing the Afghan people.  As the interim president of Afghanistan succinctly put it, "People from every province [have] asked me to help get a multinational force here.  People are desperate for security."

Friedman finally points out that Afghanistan needs an immediate infusion of monetary aid to ease terrible humanitarian conditions.

The U.S. has pledged money to rebuild Afghanistan.  It has provided much of the food that sits in the country waiting to be distributed.  Members of Congress are dutifully visiting there.  So our abandonment of that country now is not total, like it was after 1989 when the Soviet Union left.

But the consequences of what could be called our "one foot in, one foot out" posture could be just as severe if we don't bite the bullet and get involved there like we mean it.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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