Afghanistan: We Must Decide on a New War Strategy

Sunday marked the 17th anniversary of the start of war in Afghanistan, the “War on Terror.” Originally referred to as Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. invasion was America’s response to the attacks of 9/11, still the deadliest terrorist strike in world history. Home to the training camps and masterminds behind the 9/11 carnage, Afghanistan was the proper target for an aggrieved and angry nation intent on punishing the perpetrators – and preventing future attacks. But somewhere along the line, this operation evolved into a conflict that historian Andrew J. Bacevich Sr. termed the “Permanent War for Permanent Peace.” And it has left our nation weary, if not apathetic.

Costing somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $5.6 trillion and the lives of nearly 6,000 U.S. service members (including 2,347 OEF deaths as of August 2018), the ultimate burden of war has been borne by an increasingly small portion of the population. And while support for OEF in the wake of 9/11 was overwhelming, the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq made the overall “war on terror” increasingly unpopular and Afghanistan a distant concern.

During the WMD maelstrom, the men and women in uniform continued to battle fierce insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the war in Iraq turned into a partisan divide, providing an excuse for many Americans to lose interest in both wars.

Polling conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Charles Koch Institute and RealClearPolitics reflects skepticism of the war in Afghanistan (and Iraq) and a surprising lack of support for the initial invasion of Afghanistan, with 36 percent of military respondents considering the invasion a mistake. Only 30 percent of civilian respondents felt that the invasion was the correct choice, compared to 50 percent of military respondents.

A slight majority of survey respondents have concluded that the war in Afghanistan was either a mistake or has failed to achieve stated objectives. Extrapolating further, Americans have lost sight of the war’s original mission: to kill or capture al-Qaeda members responsible for 9/11 and deny safe haven to them by removing the Taliban from power.
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