The Tyranny of Defense, Inc., by Andrew J. Bacevich, The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2011
McChrystal: US and Allies 'Far From Goals' in Afghanistan, BBC News, Oct 2011
What I learned in Afghanistan...about the United States, By Dana Visalli.
Stop The War in Afghanistan — a website with an obvious point of view and links to news items
Find out how much this war is costing you. [www.costofwar.com]
Find out how many soldiers have died in Afghanistan [http://www.icasualties.org/]
10 Years of US War Viewed from Afghanistan
By: Will, ACP Executive Director
Would you be surprised to know that some of us who live and work in Afghanistan have a very different impression of the war than what is peddled by the US Government back in the States?
Thus far, about 1,800 US Soldiers have died in Afghanistan.1 The US death count has spiked dramatically over the last few years, going from 155 in 2008, to 317 in 2009, to 499 in 2010. These figures of course leave out all the contractors who have died, as well as the suffering of the families left behind or the many wounded. The only thing the death toll shows for sure is that things aren't getting better over here for US Soldiers who wish to go back home breathing.
But if we choose war, then we should expect casualties. The question is really not how many die, but whether it was worth it. If killing off enemy combatants is your thing, we have killed an estimated 35,573 enemy fighters in this ten-year war—approximately 20 Taliban for each US Soldier killed.2 But that ratio is decreasing. This year, we bagged just 6 Taliban per US death, making things start to appear like an endless war of attrition.
While some of the enemy killed were undoubtedly very evil and dangerous people, many were coerced into fighting or were simply in need of a job—people who, left alone, would never have posed any threat to the United States.3 And killing isn't cheap. In 2009 we spent $12.0 million per dead Talib. In 2010 that jumped to $20.4 million, and this year, we are spending over $60 million per head. [Fig. Iii] It is unclear how many new enemies we create with each errant missile strike, but on our current trajectory, we will surely run out of money before we run out of enemies.
Beyond the human lives lost, the direct economic cost of this war is now over half a trillion (yeah, with a "t") dollars.4 It is not difficult to calculate the thousands of new schools, hospitals and other necessities we could have built and funded in the US with this money.5 But the real question, once again, is was it a wise tradeoff, and should we keep the war going?
It is true, there have been no large-scale terrorist attacks on the US since 9/11.6 Excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, more Americans now die annually from eating peanuts than from terrorism.7 But is this due to the success of the war, or just the result of a huge overstatement of the terrorist threat? Even before the "Global War on Terror," very few Americans died from terrorist attacks. And interestingly, since 2005 (when the Government created an agency just to keep terrorism statistics) 87% of the 176 Americans who have died from terrorism have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries in which we happen to have been at war.
A corollary pro-war argument is not just that we weeded out and punished the current band of Islamist-terrorists, but that the US's willingness to wage a 10-year war serves as deterrent to future miscreants. But do the bin Laden's of this world really care if the US strikes back? Is a suicide bomber concerned with retaliation? Isn't it possible that US-initiated wars were precisely what bin Laden wanted—a way to leverage his 9/11 attack into the sacrifice of far more US lives and a much more massive drain on the US economy.
The terrorist scare aside, we often hear that Americans are here to "liberate" the people of Afghanistan. While opinions of the US were once high among Afghan people, now a growing number of Afghans simply want the US and other occupying powers out—come whatever may. (This mirrors world opinion, by the way, in which a majority of the people of almost every nation, including the US, think we should get out).8 Notable exceptions are the corrupt and inept Afghan politicians kept in power with US backing, even though they still had to steal the last election to keep their jobs. Thus, expect a tough road to "liberate" people who, through their independent, tribal and Islamic mindsets, really aren't all that turned on by the US version of "liberation."
The military's latest mantra is even more Quixotic. Understandably eager to remake itself after the Iraq disaster, the US Military now claims to be focusing on "nation building" or "Counterinsurgency (COIN)." We thought the US Military was supposed to defend the US, not provide electricity, roads, tribunals and other civic doo-dads to foreign nations. And who, other than the most puffed-up generals, would even presume that the military has the expertise to engage in nation building? Or much less, to do it efficiently (how soon we forget the $900 toilet seat).
Ten years into this war, the US Military still lacks any local cred when it comes to being Mr. Fix-it in Afghanistan. Ninety-nine per cent of the soldiers and contractors in Afghanistan will never even talk to an Afghan off a military base. And on those few occasions when Americans venture "outside the wire," they are generally cruising around in million-dollar MRAPs, peering out at Afghan children through armor plate and machine guns, hardly inspiring warm fuzzies with their hosts. On the streets of Kabul, to the extent anyone even knows about it, COIN is a plugged nickel.
But by far, the war's most troubling fact is that it does not seem to be ending, despite much talk by US politicians of "drawdowns" and "exit strategies." On the contrary, war spending is at an all time high and is skyrocketing. Yearly spending has gone from $59 billion in 2009, to $107 billion in 2010 to over $122 billion this year. Part of this increase is due to a huge military building boom in Afghanistan. Where the war was once fought from foxholes, tents and plywood structures, permanent military buildings are now going up all over the country.9 Awards of new multi-year contracts for everything from transportation to provisions are also at an all-time high.10 If the US is really planning to scale back on the war, nobody seems to have told military planners.
The only certain beneficiary of this war has been the Defense Industry. The weapons builders, prime contractors, sub contractors, building contractors, security contractors, retired military officers cum contractors, Blackwaters, Strangeloves, purveyors, provisioners, prognosticators and the rest of Ike's Military-Industrial You-Know-Who have profitted handsomely. Although this comprises a big, big sector of the US economy, it is conveniently neither the sector which pays for, nor dies in, these grand campaigns. And the same question remains—has this manna for the Defense Industry been worth 1,800 US Soldiers and half a trillion dollars which could have been spent on other things at home or maybe better, not even have been spent at all?
Today, if one substitutes the word "terrorist" for "communist" in every dire government warning issued before 1990, the déjà vu is stunning. It appears the world terrorist scare is as specious as the Red scare that led us into Korea, Viet Nam, the Bay of Pigs and other disasters. Iraq and Afghanistan should at least remind us what our founding fathers knew and tried to safeguard against: You cannot really trust your central government. And this is apparetly doubly true when the Gov teams up with Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, a host of retired generals and a rotunda full of fawning politicians.
Most of us at the Afghan Child Project have either been in the military or worked as military contractors. And all of us fully support the US troops over here. But having seen what we have seen first hand, and having mingled with lots of Afghans, soldiers and others, it is difficult not to find a reason to quickly end this all-around counterproductive war.
But we still have a chance to accomplish some of what we came here to do—make friends, not enemies, with the Afghan people, so this place never again spawns large-scale terrorist attacks against the rest of the world. And we don't mean building bridges and highways which will very likely fall back into unfriendly hands or just be destroyed. ACP believes in giving people here education and kindness. These are things that the Taliban cannot ever take away. Teach Afghans to read—especially women and children—let them see the outside world through their own eyes, and we think things in Afghanistan will eventually change for the better.
And in the meantime, we could spend some of the war money on peaceable projects at home, spend a little of it to help poor Afghans, to whom we now have an obligation, and the rest, hopefully, not spend at all.Notes: