What’s Left: It’s time to end the war in Afghanistan

In Columns, Opinion

It’s been over 10 years since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, making the occupation the longest war in United States history. During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama vowed to escalate troops in Afghanistan after withdrawing from Iraq.

With yet another “Mission Accomplished” banner waving thunderously in the air, we pulled combat troops out of Iraq — although private contractors still remain — and now we are still in the midst of an unwinnable war that has killed 1,600 soldiers and up to 15,000 Afghan civilians to date. In addition, there have been hundreds of thousands who have been wounded, both soldiers and innocent civilians.

Both imperialist wars have brought on disastrous consequences for all Americans. The wars have severely impacted our economy, with half a trillion dollars spent on the Afghanistan war alone. We have created a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and destabilized the region.

By sustaining our occupation of Afghanistan, we are not fighting terrorism and instead are worsening the situation — just as we did in Iraq.

A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found, “the mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.” In Robert Greenwald’s documentary, Rethink Afghanistan, political scientist Robert Pape said, “This is hardly a global jihad that’s sitting in Afghanistan, what we are witnessing is a regional and local nationalist opposition to American and Western military control.”

The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA) have cited that the U.S. occupation increases violence against Afghan women, contrary to the belief that the U.S. is “helping” women in the country.

At this point, the original purpose of going to war ceases to remain relevant and now more than ever, the U.S. needs to to evaluate if the human and financial costs are worth fighting a war that we cannot possibly win.

Our soldiers continue to suffer the consequences while on duty. The recent shooting spree by Robert Bales highlights the tremendous toll of multiple tours with heightened aggressive acts by U.S. soldiers.

Bales is the alleged shooter in a massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children.

This incident follows protests in the country against the U.S. military service members burning copies of the Koran, and videos of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghans.

The dehumanization that occurs during military training and combat has greatly impacted returning veterans in innumerable ways. Veterans returning home face a multitude of challenges when they come home: high unemployment rates, homelessness, lack of medical care for their injuries, mental disorders and behavioral adjustment problems, just to name a few.

It is time for the U.S. to end the war in Afghanistan and not only bring soldiers home, but provide services and opportunities for the returning servicemen and women.

There are a multitude of health concerns piling up the longer we stay in a decade-long conflict that is going nowhere.

Two years in a row, more American soldiers — both enlisted men and women and veterans — committed suicide than those who were killed those same years in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a report by the Center for a New American Security, between 2005 and 2010, a U.S. service member took his or her own life every 36 hours.

The study found that although only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the U.S. In April 2010, Time magazine’s Mark Thompson wrote that the problem with veteran suicides is exacerbated by the manpower challenges faced by the service, because new research suggests that repeated combat deployments seem to be driving the suicide surge.

Our soldiers have suffered enough and the reasons for their suffering cannot possibly be justified by talking heads in D.C. Instead of arguing about women’s bodies, politicians must focus on what we can do about the crisis with helping those who are suffering from physical injuries and mental disorders since returning home from combat.

The Seattle Times reported earlier this month that 285 patients at JBLM’s Madigan Army Medical Center had their post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses inexplicably reversed by a forensic psychiatric screening team.

According to the Seattle Times, the reversals are now under investigation due to concerns that it was to avoid paying those who qualify for medical benefits. This is just one of the many examples of veterans being unable to receive benefits they rightfully deserve.

Not only are service members not receiving the treatment they need when they return home, they are also facing increasing isolation from the rest of society. Soldiers find themselves returning home to a country that does not know them.

In November, Time magazine published an article called “An Army Apart,” chronicling the difficult transition from service life to civilian life for U.S. veterans. The magazine found the military community has been drifting away from mainstream American society.

The article stated: “Never has the U.S. public been so separate, so removed, so isolated from the people it pays to protect it.”

This isolation may be one of the reasons many veterans find themselves on the streets. Veterans are increasingly at risk for homelessness and the number seems to keep getting higher. An October 2011 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs found that more young veterans are on the street.

About 13,000 of the nation’s homeless in 2010 were ex-service members between the ages of 18 and 30, a disproportionately large number of the nation’s overall homeless veteran population, according to the study. We need to direct our resources to getting veterans off the streets instead of putting them in harm’s way.

There are 91,000 troops in Afghanistan and President Obama has ordered that 23,000 be withdrawn by September, and the rest by 2014.

We need to end the war and use federal dollars to support the physical, mental and emotional consequences it has caused our servicemembers. There cannot be any justification for the seemingly endless occupation of a country while we are experiencing the greatest economic meltdown in our own country.

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