Politics & Policy

Don’t Throw Afghanistan to the Wolves

U.S. Army soldiers board a C-130 leaving Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan.
The murder of Alexandros Petersen — and the U.S.’s lack of commitment.

On the evening of January 17, Taliban terrorists launched yet another attack in Afghanistan. This time the target was a popular restaurant in downtown Kabul that caters to Westerners and is fondly called “Rick’s Café.” Terrorists sprayed bullets from their AK-47s and a suicide bomber blew himself up, and in the end 21 people were murdered, including my friend and colleague Alexandros Petersen. Alex was an important and gifted scholar and voice in the international arena, on whose keen observations the international community had come to depend.

If Alex’s murder and that of the other people at “Rick’s” can serve any purpose, let it be a teaching moment for the Obama administration and Congress, to reveal that their policies on Afghanistan are not working.

U.S. government policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan, particularly during the Obama administration, have shifted to a “cut and run” position. It is short-sighted and irresponsible to bring most U.S. troops home and cease offensive operations, even drone strikes, within Afghanistan. To leave a predominantly illiterate and sorely undertrained Afghan army (as a U.S. government report published at the end of January showed) to protect the people of Afghanistan is negligent.

It is nonsensical to remove our troops from Afghanistan in the wake of a growing Taliban insurgency, which will inevitably worsen once we have pulled out. Should we follow these ill-advised policies only to have to bomb or invade again the next time a terrorist attack against the U.S. is launched from Afghanistan, à la the 9/11 attacks? These are questions and considerations that the Obama administration seems to be glossing over, opting instead to base its policy on short-term concerns that do not take into account the future and the big picture.

The United States should feel honor-bound not to abandon the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women, to the likes of the Taliban — a backward, xenophobic lot bent on the subjugation of women and ethnic minorities and the support of terrorism and jihadism the world over.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The war was a necessary reaction to a clear and present danger to our homeland — a concept on which all agreed, including Congress, the Bush administration, and later the Obama administration. We set about routing the Taliban from this defunct and lawless swath of land and then building a nation where none existed. We have made great strides, but, as this latest terrorist attack proves, we are not done.

I recognize that the American people are tired of war. I am, too. We are all crushed, heartbroken, and deeply saddened when our soldiers come back broken in body and mind. But we made a commitment to see this venture through, to provide active and forceful stewardship to what we started. It is in our national interest and safety to protect Afghanistan and its people from the Taliban and, in so doing, to protect against a jihadist attack on our nation.

The U.S. is rapidly earning a reputation as a nation that abandons friends, causes, and projects when something newer and shinier appears, or when a task gets difficult or controversial. At times we even turn our backs on our friends when an enemy manipulates us.

Why are we forsaking an ally like Israel, the only outpost of democracy, Western values, and normalcy in the entire Middle East region? Why are we abandoning Azerbaijan, an ally that borders Iran and Russia and is our most steadfast and reliable partner in that region, the key to alleviating Europe’s energy dependency on Iran and Russia and one of the few moderate and progressive Muslim nations we can count as a friend? Lastly, why are we abandoning Afghanistan, a slowly emerging nation that without us will surely devolve into the Terrorist Republic of Afghanistan? Our commitment, at its very base, is to not abandon this nation that is very clearly not ready to stand on its own.

Is Alex’s death, along with those of so many others, emblematic of the new post-U.S. and post-NATO Afghanistan, a tragic exclamation point on our venture in Afghanistan? Do we leave Afghanistan to the likes of their “thug in chief,” Karzai, and then to the Taliban once he is gone — only to bomb them once our national security is threatened again?

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Lately we have read exuberant reports of Karzai’s moves to talk to the Taliban, ostensibly to work out a deal for coexistence and peace. As many have learned the hard way, one cannot negotiate with true believers. Cases in point: The Israelis have been trying to negotiate with the Palestinians for decades, to no avail; the Azerbaijanis have been trying to negotiate with the Armenians occupying the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan for nearly two decades; the Obama administration is attempting to negotiate with the ruling mullahs in Iran. The Armenians, Palestinians, and Iranians are all true believers, as is the Taliban. These parties believe that there is no room for negotiation and/or movement because they have a God-given right to everything they want and have and their faith has all the answers.

The United States must stand fast and support the Afghan people, who depend on us and want us. Although it is a fait accompli that a drawdown of U.S. troops will occur, we must keep ample troops on station: first, to help defend the more modern way of the life that is emerging in Afghanistan, and second, to continue offensive operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The U.S. must also keep personnel in country to continue to train, equip, and educate Afghan troops, functions that will help U.S. troops to keep the terrorist Taliban at bay. And we must continue our drone strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets, which have proven so valuable.

Again, this is all in our national interest. If Mr. Karzai objects (as he has in the past), a firm promise of less aid will soon change his mind.

So here’s the real question: Do we give the Afghan people the time to build a nation of law and order, a nation that can stand on its own as a responsible member of the world community? Or do we sheepishly offer our apologies for the grievous lack of focus and commitment promised, but not delivered, to Afghanistan by the United States?

You tell me.

— Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a consultancy that advises foreign governments (including the Azerbaijani government), NGOs, and corporations on strategic communications, politics, and policy. He is also the former director of public affairs and public relations for the American Jewish Committee, based in Los Angeles.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its initial posting.

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