15 years later, what did the Americans achieve in Afghanistan?

15 years later, what did the Americans achieve in Afghanistan?

15 years later, what did the Americans achieve in Afghanistan?
Jon Rainwater

The Afghanistan War turned 15 on Oct. 7, and on this tragic anniversary, Americans need to demand answers from the Obama administration and Congress on two crucial questions. First, is this longest war in US history making Americans safer? Second, has it been worth the immense cost in lives and billions of dollars?
The only honest answer to both questions is a resounding: NO.
The war has claimed the lives of 2,346 American service members, including Army Staff Sgt. Adam Thomas who lost his life on Tuesday. It has also claimed the lives of an estimated 31,000 civilians, exacerbating anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and elsewhere and undermining American security. Despite the sacrifice of American and Afghan soldiers, and long-term costs of trillions to American taxpayers, Afghanistan remains engulfed in violence with no end in sight.
In fact, since President Obama announced his plan to keep approximately 8,400 American service members in Afghanistan, walking back his previous pledge to reduce troop numbers to 5,500, the Pentagon has said it will ask for more money from Congress — likely in the billions of dollars.
A strategic withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is long overdue and should be a priority of the next administration. A military withdrawal does not mean the US does not have a critical role to play in Afghanistan. On the contrary, the US has an obligation to support non-military approaches to the conflict, as well as invest in robust humanitarian aid, extensive rebuilding efforts, and a stronger civil society. Fully embracing these alternatives to a failed military strategy will help heal the wounds of a devastating war and facilitate an eventual end to the fighting.
An entire generation of children has been born into the chaos of war in Afghanistan, never knowing the security of peace, yet in America’s heated presidential election, the question of how to end the war has rarely been asked, and never been answered by those seeking the highest office in the land.
With election day around the corner, Americans deserve to know what (if any) plans the candidates for commander in chief have for bringing the longest war in American history to an end, because “stay the course” isn’t going to cut it.
While the responsibility of executing a strategic withdrawal from Afghanistan lies with the president, Congress has an important role to play in shaping the debate and taking back a constitutional power it essentially forfeited in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
When Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that authorized the war in Afghanistan, it opened a Pandora’s box; authorizing military action with vague descriptions of acceptable targets and no geographic or time limits, and effectively placing the question of whether or not the United States goes to war — and whether or not it remains at war — in the hands of one individual.
To remedy this affront to the Constitution, Congress should repeal the 2001 AUMF, and debate and vote on whether or not to authorize ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Nigeria — all the countries where US military operations are supposedly authorized under the 2001 AUMF.

After a decade and a half, the Afghanistan War has made the US less safe and the region less stable at a cost that families and taxpayers cannot afford. The next American president needs to halt military activities and focus on long-term solutions such as development, humanitarian aid, education and poverty alleviation while learning the lesson that invasion and occupation rarely ends well.

— Jon Rainwater is executive director of Peace Action. For over 25 years, he has been active in campaigns on issues of peace, nuclear disarmament, social justice and environmental sustainability.

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