In 2003, President George W. Bush famously stood in front of a banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln and announced that the war in Iraq was a “mission accomplished.” President Bush’s announcement was eight years premature as combat troops did not ultimately exit Iraq until the end of last year. But in Afghanistan, it’s time to raise the banner and bring our troops home. Our mission is accomplished, and we must now end this war.
We must end this war because we achieved our mission in Afghanistan some time ago. I say that with a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the troops still serving in the country, but with conviction that it’s time to bring them home. We have largely decimated Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan, reducing the terrorist organization’s number of operatives in the country to about 40-50. This last batch will need to be weeded out in a similar manner to the execution of the group’s leader, Osama Bin Laden, through targeted special operation attacks and drone strikes. Future operations, both in Afghanistan and in other combat arenas around the world, will be fueled by intelligence and leaner, tactical missions, as opposed to large numbers of boots on the ground.
We must end this war because of the toll it is taking on our troops. After 11 years of combat, America just lost its 2,000th service member in Afghanistan. Moreover, there were 192,000 traumatic brain injuries between 2001-2010, and 87,105 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicides recently surpassed deaths on the battlefield, with 18 veterans committing suicide every single day. And the smaller number of active duty service members spread across multiple operations around the world has resulted in our men and women in uniform being re-deployed multiple times, with some 100,000 being sent into battle three or more times since September 11, 2001. All of this is having devastating effects on our military members and their families, and the human costs of continued operations are far exceeding any gained security benefits.
We must end this war because we can no longer financially afford to continue our operations, and we are seeing diminishing returns the longer we stay. One of every six dollars the U.S. spends on defense – $2 billion weekly – is being poured into Afghanistan. This is money that we desperately need for investment in our veterans and services at home. We should use these funds to combat the 29% unemployment rate of veterans, providing them with needed job training and career reintroduction services when they return home from war zones. And we should also use these funds to greatly advance the health and rehabilitation services for our veterans, particularly in the areas of mental health, which have for too long been overlooked and under-funded. Our minimal resources in this space represent an unacceptable allocation of funding for a part of the population that has given so much to our nation.
We must end this war because it is dominating our foreign policy focus. We have a great deal of current and emerging conflicts and crises around the world that demand our attention and resources. Syria is unraveling more every day, and as Assad is backed further into a corner, the U.S. may find the need to intervene to prevent a final mass massacre before the leader’s downfall. Nuclear Pakistan continues to be volatile, as Al Qaeda members fleeing from Afghanistan continue to find refuge in the country’s mountainous regions while the Pakistani government continues to seem incapable or unwilling to combat these groups. Tensions continue to run high on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea’s new, young leader toying with ongoing military drills. A pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities from Israel seems forthcoming, an action that would certainly engage the U.S. in support of one of its closest allies in the region. Europe continues to be embroiled in economic uncertainties, resulting in protests, widespread unrest and high unemployment, particularly among youth, and while this would not require military action from the U.S., America is certainly in no position – economically or politically – to lend a helping hand to its European allies in the event that large, steadying investments were needed. Rising food prices as a result of a series of droughts are leaving millions hungry, creating even more unrest in countries like Yemen that are already unstable. And a series of new, young democracies sprung from the Arab Spring may need the support of the U.S. as they go through the growing pains of maturing into secure states, a process that America’s own history demonstrates can take decades, if not centuries. These issues are only the ones from recent headlines, and don’t even address some of the issues concerning the biggest players in global politics, including the chilling of Russia, the ageing of China, the corrupting of India, and the major issue impacting the entire globe – the warming of the world. We live in a fast-moving, interconnected world where any one of these issues can immediately demand the full attention of our nation, and thus, we can’t afford to be engaged in a mission that has already been accomplished.
And finally, we must end this war because it is time for Afghans to take control of their country. The more than 350,000 Afghan military and police forces must now take the reigns and responsibility for Afghanistan’s security. We can and must continue to provide tactical and operational support, particularly in the Eastern region bordering Pakistan, but this support should not command the presence of tens of thousands of our troops. It’s time to accept our successes over the past decade, shift our military efforts in Afghanistan to more development and support services, bring our troops home and focus our resources on investing in their future and the future of our nation.