There’s a reason the reaction was muted, at best, to last week’s announcement by President Obama and Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, that U.S. and coalition forces would be out of that battle-scarred country by 2014. The American people are tired and weary of the longest war in this nation’s history.
Polls consistently show that after 11 years, 2,000-plus soldiers killed in combat, 17,000-plus wounded, and more than a $1 trillion spent to bring democracy to the ancient land, the public just wants the United States out of there.
A growing number of Americans also question whether it was necessary for the U.S. and its coalition partners to have stayed in Afghanistan long after the Taliban extremist government was ousted in 2001. The invasion of Afghanistan was ordered by then President George W. Bush after it was determined that most of the Islamic terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America’s homeland were trained in al-Qaida’s camps in Afghanistan.
The U.S. and other countries joined militarily to not only oust the Islamists who had ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist for decades and had imposed Sharia law, but to install a democratically elected government.
However, the Taliban, with support from al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan, have refused to accept the changes that have taken place. Rather than cower in the presence of NATO-led coalition forces, of which the U.S. is the largest contributor, the Taliban continue to launch attacks deep inside Afghanistan.
While they have failed to seize control of significant parts of the country, the terrorists have kept the Karzai government off balance.
Thus the question: With the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops next year, will the Afghans be able to defend their country against the expected onslaught?
As we noted in an editorial marking the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the world’s leading terrorist, “The withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces is necessary, given the opinion of the American public. But, Afghanistan deserves to have allies willing to support its experiment in democracy.”
There are strong indications that between 3,000 and 9,000 American troops could be kept in Afghanistan to serve as advisors. There currently at 66,000.
Military leaders believe a residual force of 10,000 is necessary, given the continuing need to train Afghan soldiers.
The Obama administration would not get much push back from the American people if a force of 10,000 were maintained. Indeed, the president would win the support of Republicans on Capitol Hill, given that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell cited the 10,000 figure after a series of meetings with military leaders in Afghanistan. McConnell led a congressional delegation to the country and expressed optimism that a “happy ending” for America’s involvement is possible.
But, before the president decides on leaving any Americans behind beyond 2014, there should be a clear understanding that they would be immune from prosecution. Otherwise, the Americans would be at great risk of retaliation.
As the years have gone by, the people of Afghanistan and even members of Karzai’s government have blamed the United States for the rising civilian death toll.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine members of a residual force being accused of war crimes.
Without an iron-clad guarantee of immunity, no Americans should be left behind.
This country already has paid too high a price to free Afghanistan from the shackles of Islamic extremists.