The New York Times reported today that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.”
The Times claims that “at least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks . . . and many times more have been wounded, often severely. Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “‘People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”
Indeed! The “compelling” rationale according to US officials is that “the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.”
Can’t the same be said for the entire war effort in Afghanistan? Let’s face it, the US is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan and have suffered 1,483 fatalities with 6,588 wounded in a war that many consider un-winnable. And how about the tens of thousands of vets suffering TBI and PTSD? The aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us for many more years as our brave heroes recover from the violent effects IED attacks against a ground army that was not provided adequate protective gear. It is not surprising that over 96% of those wounded are US Army personnel (includes Army Reserves) and the Marines. It’s the grunt on the ground that is most exposed to the horrors of war.
I do not know if the war is “winnable” or not. The appropriate question is: “Is it worth it?” I seem to recall reading an article by Admiral Rickover in which he argued that we use a country’s GNP (gross national product) to determine its political and strategic importance to the United States. While geo-political and social purists may object to basing one’s political policy on economic relevance, common sense and our huge budget deficits dictate otherwise (let alone the blood and suffering of our young men and women serving in Afghanistan).
Specifically, examine the following three Arab countries in the news today:
- Afghanistan: GNP $31 billion, Population 30 million;
- Egypt: GNP $445 billion, Population 81 million;
- Libya: GNP $162 billion, Population 6 million.
In the case of Egypt (a country where US aid is only $1.5 billion a year), Egyptian citizens from all walks of life brought down the dictatorship with the benign intervention of the military and very little direct influence by the United States. Things are certainly more violent in Libya, but the same result can be expected. While the future is uncertain in both of these countries, the situation is Afghanistan is clear: the US will continue to prop up a corrupt and largely ineffective Karzai government.
The question that must be asked: Wouldn’t the US do better allocating our scarce resources to help shape geo-political events in Egypt and Libya, countries that have more strategic relevance to our country. Keeping our powder dry – to use a Revolutionary War term – certainly seems far better and far less expensive than having our brave heroes provide police and security services in Afghanistan. You be the judge.
Richard W. May