Student Op-Eds

The War is Over: The Transition Out of Afghanistan

Daniel Cummings ’17  Inside Politics

In response to the domestic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7th of the same year. More than twelve years later, the United States continues to conduct combat operations against a broken enemy. As part of a general War on Terror, which includes a nine-year war in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan has crippled the American economy, strained our veterans and their benefits, and has broken the spirit of the American people. The war is expected to cost the United States over six trillion dollars before the conclusion, along with more than 6,700 military dead, and over 57,000 severely wounded. However, President Obama, along with Congress, has affirmed that the last combat operations in the country will be over by the end of the year, and our military personnel will be home. Such news is refreshing to a war-weary public, who have wished for the conclusion of the conflict and retraction of our forces for years.

Despite the news coming from both the White House and Congress, the United States is not scheduled to leave Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. In a proposed Bilateral Security Agreement between the governments of the United States and Afghanistan, the United States would retain 12,000 military personnel within the country until the year 2024. In context, these soldiers would be responsible for conducting counter-terrorism operations, while providing security and assistance to Afghan forces. Simply speaking, these would be 12,000 of America’s Special Forces elite to be left in the warzone for another ten years.

In the military, a combat operation is both small and large-scale operations conducted by any component of the military against the enemy. As part of the Bilateral Security Agreement, Special Forces components within the country are authorized to conduct counter-terrorism operations against private Afghan homes. These combat operations will continue to put the most elite American personnel directly in combat with the enemy.

The majority of American people want this war to end, with 53 percent of polled Americans stating that the 2014 withdrawal date is too far. Members of our all-volunteer military have commonly been exposed to over four combat deployments in support of both Iraq and Enduring Freedom. Once out of the warzone, our men and women are coming home missing limbs, suffering from traumatic brain injuries, and living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Presently, over 270,000 veterans of the War on Terror are being tested for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It has become apparent that the 13-year war has exerted costs far beyond monetary measurement. The discipline, training, and strength of our men and servicewomen is unmatched, but there is certainly a point that war-weariness will detract from combat effectiveness.

Presently, President Hamid Karzai has voiced significant reservations about the Bilateral Security Agreement. In an effort to reduce the number of future civilian casualties, President Karzai voiced that American security forces may not enter the private homes of Afghan citizens. To this point, the most constructive counter-terrorism initiative the United States has enacted consists of quick raids on high value targets. By removing this tool from our arsenal, Karzai limits the ability of our remaining soldiers to enact any form of progress. Because of Karzai’s stipulations, and refusal to enact the bi-lateral agreement, President Obama has threatened to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Despite the reiterations from top government officials, the War in Afghanistan is not going to end if the Bilateral Security Agreement is signed. Instead, we would be engaged in a small, quite war involving high speed raids by our best warriors. While there is no American that wishes to see Afghanistan plunge into chaos, we also need to appreciate the fact that we are in our 13th year of war. We have seen almost 7,000 of our uniformed personnel dead. Hundreds of thousands of our troops will carry the horrors of this war with them for the rest of their lives; we have spent over 6 trillion dollars to fund this excursion. The point here is that, despite the external implications, it is time for this war to end. This Bilateral Security Agreement serves to extend the war by ten more years, but this agreement will only prove to be an extension to the war. This country will remain locked in this forsaken war until every single service member is home.