The Aimless War: Why Are We in Afghanistan?


The Aimless War: Why Are We in Afghanistan?

“Things have gotten a bit hairy,” admitted British Lieut. Colonel Graeme Armour as we sat in a dusty, bunkered NATO fortress just outside the city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, a deadly piece of turf along Afghanistan’s southern border with Pakistan. A day earlier, two Danish soldiers had been killed and two Brits seriously wounded by roadside bombs. The casualties were coming almost daily now.

And then there were the daily frustrations of Armour’s job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. “They’ve had no experience at learning,” Armour said. “You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh.” A week earlier, five Afghan police officers trained by Armour were murdered in their beds while defending a nearby checkpoint — possibly by other police officers. Their weapons and ammunition were stolen. “We’re not sure of the motivation,” Armour said. “They may have gone to join the Taliban or sold the guns in the market.”
Holbrooke is a great negotiator, but he’s also a great intimidator, and the first step toward resolving the war in Afghanistan is to lay down the law in both Islamabad and Kabul. The message should be the same in both cases: The unsupervised splurge of American aid is over. The Pakistanis will have to stop giving tacit support and protection to terrorists, especially the Afghan Taliban. The Karzai government will have to end its corruption and close down the drug trade. There are plenty of other reforms necessary — the international humanitarian effort is a shabby, self-righteous mess; some of our NATO allies aren’t carrying their share of the military burden — but the war will remain a bloody stalemate at best as long as jihadis come across the border from Pakistan and the drug trade flourishes.
I flew by helicopter from Helmand to the enormous NATO base outside Kandahar to learn that three Canadian soldiers had been killed that morning in an ambush. I stood in a small, bare concrete plaza as the Canadian flag was raised, then lowered to half-staff. Next the Danish flag and finally the NATO flag were raised and left to rest at half-staff. A small group of soldiers from assorted countries stood at attention and saluted as the flags rose and fell. There were no American flags this day, but there soon will be.
Before he sends another U.S. soldier off to die or be maimed in Afghanistan, President-elect Obama needs to deliver the blunt message to the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan that we will no longer tolerate their complicity in the deaths of Americans and our allies, a slaughter that began on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and continues to this day. Obama will soon own this aimless war if he does not somehow change that dynamic. See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

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