Today, Afghanistan remains in large part what it always has been in modern times: a country run by tribal factions, rival warlords and an ineffectual government. The might of the U.S. military has wounded the Taliban in Afghanistan and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, but the impossible — inching Afghanistan closer to a democratic existence — is as far away today as it has been at any time since the United States went to war there in 2001.
Even the online CIA Factbook sugarcoats nothing in its description. “Despite gains toward building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability - particularly in the south and the east - remain serious challenges for the Afghan Government.”
Twelve years after American soldiers began fighting in the so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is now discussing something called the “zero option” — the removal of all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
We aren’t holding our breath over that possibility.
That’s not because of a lack of support for the removal of U.S. soldiers. President Obama’s efforts to end the United States’ military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been both warranted and worthwhile. American troops never should have been in Iraq, a needless pre-emptive war, and their time in Afghanistan has run its course.
Gains in Afghanistan are few; diplomacy and peace-keeping are hard to foment when tribal factions bent on destroying rivals add to the daily bloodshed. What’s more, the deterioration of the White House’s relationship with inept Afghan President Hamid Karzai has only ratcheted up the administration’s frustration.
American progress in Afghanistan isn’t measured in two-steps-forward, one-step-back conservatism. Any steps forward seem few and far between.
So we applaud the White House’s consideration of a “zero option.” It’s past time to bring those Americans home. Problem is, that optimism is strongly tempered by the reality that will take place in Afghanistan when American soldiers and their allies depart.
Tuesday provided a timely example of the ramp-up in violence that’s taking place since Western peace-keeping troops have adopted reduced roles there. On the same day The New York Times reported on Obama’s “zero option,” a roadside bomb killed 17 people, mostly women and small children, who were traveling between two villages. Nearly 1,000 Afghan civilians have died in similar attacks in the first half of the year. Karzai, the Associated Press reported, has since asked the Taliban to “respect” the Islamic holy time of Ramadan, which begins today.
America’s Long War in Afghanistan had just causes when it began. But that was years ago, and now it’s time for the United States to let the Afghans govern themselves, if they can.