Still the Forgotten War

U.S. Marines and sailors disembark a C-17 cargo plane on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2009, to support Operation Enduring Freedom. For many, this is their first deployment, and in many cases their first time outside of the United States.

The forgotten war in Afghanistan was finally made an appearance in comments from policymakers on both sides of the aisle this the past week. However, the brief mentions fell short of the serious debate the $500-billion war deserves.

Some 90,000 U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan. President Obama, in Ohio for a campaign event this weekend, pledged to “have them all out of there by 2014.” This promise was a slip of the tongue, later clarified—the administration plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, but thousands of trainers and special operations forces will remain after 2014.

The lack of a strategy for 2015 and beyond hasn’t stopped the administration from trying to sell its Afghanistan plan to the American public. “Because of my plan, 33,000 of them [U.S. troops] will have come home by the end of this month,” Obama said at the campaign event.

What the president didn’t mention is that those troops are in Afghanistan because of the his own policy. Almost three years ago the administration announced plans to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Even with extra manpower, the U.S.  didn’t make much headway in southern Afghanistan.

By the end of the summer we’ll be back to where we were in November 2009—with 68,000 troops still in Afghanistan and little to show for it. Many experts, like ASG’s Steve Clemons, describe the surge as a “strategic mistake and only deepened the black hole of costs in blood and treasure that the U.S. had already invested.”

If the current administration’s Afghanistan policy leaves a lot to be desired, the other side hasn’t offered a real alternative. At the Republican National Convention neither the the presidential nor the vice presidential candidate addressed the unpopular war.

In fact, Afghanistan was mentioned only four times during the convention, which lasted three days. One mention was from Sen. John McCain, who argued that “by committing to withdraw from Afghanistan before peace can be achieved and sustained, the president has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies.” Another was from Clint Eastwood, who faulted the president first for thinking the invasion of Afghanistan “was something worth doing,” then for setting a target date for the drawdown.

The way policymakers and opinion leaders on both sides of the aisle refer to Afghanistan shows that the war is still forgotten. Neither side has laid out a clear strategy. Neither side wants to have a serious debate.

90,000 U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan. The war costs U.S. taxpayers $2 billion each week. Policymakers’ silence on Afghanistan is inexcusable.

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