The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 16 years now, making it the longest war in our history, and still many Americans support the presence. Why? Because they fear that if we leave, Islamic terrorists will come back and threaten us again — basically, the fear of another 9/11. Here’s why that thinking is misguided.
US Presence Has No Effect
Set aside ego and look at the situation objectively. 16 years of US presence, 2,300 dead US soldiers, 20,000 wounded, and $900 billion later … the efforts to contain Taliban and Islamic terrorists have been abysmal failures. Taliban now controls larger areas today than in 2001. And guess who else is there now that wasn’t there before? ISIS. Furthermore, Afghanistan’s opium production is at record level. So, more Islamic terrorism and more drugs after 16 years. This is not working. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
Look at the map of Islamic terrorist attacks around the world in 2015.
The world has changed a lot since 2001. Al Qaeda, ISIS and their compadres are in 30+ countries. Search online for terrorist attack or suicide bombing, you will see the hotspots of Islamic terrorism around the globe. Syria and Iraq have tens of thousands of crazies; Yemen and Somalia are teeming with Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab; Libya is a melting pot of all kinds of terrorists now (thanks, Neocons); Nigeria, with 150 million people, has a huge Islamic terrorist group called Boko Haram; Islamic extremism is spreading in Indonesia and Bangladesh, two Muslim countries with a total population of 400+ million people; the Philippines is battling Abu Sayyaf and ISIS; Caucasus countries like Chechnya and Uzbekistan have plenty of Salafists; and even China is battling Islamic terrorists (Uyghur) in its western province. Above all, right next to Afghanistan is Pakistan, which is still a hotbed of terrorism.
Get it? Occupying Afghanistan is like putting a Band-Aid on a patient’s finger when he’s been stabbed dozens of times all over his body.
Ignoring the Cause and Focusing on the Symptoms
Islamic terrorism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To start with, extremist mosques, certain Islamic schools (madrassas) and terrorist camps all over the world indoctrinate people with radical and violent ideas.
Second, there are countries, charities and people who give billions of dollars every year to the terrorists to buy weapons, pay salaries for the fighters and so on. Saudi Arabia is incomparably #1, Qatar is #2, and other Gulf countries – Kuwait, UAE, etc. – chip in as well. If you notice the pattern, all those terrorist sponsors happen to be our allies. Our focus must be on the root cause, not individual and localized symptoms.
Enable Afghans to Defend Themselves
The GDP per Capita in Afghanistan is $600. That’s per year. So imagine if the U.S. pays $10,000 per year for Afghan cops/soldiers who go through vigorous training. Let’s say we sign up 50,000 such Rambos. That costs only $0.5 billion a year. Half a billion. Spend another half a billion on training, surveillance, guns, armored vehicles etc., the spending comes to $1 billion. Compare that to $50 billion spent on the US military in Afghanistan every year. $1 versus $50. Moreover, these 50,000 Afghan soldiers can actually roam around the country and fight the Taliban/ISIS, unlike the US soldiers who have limited engagements and stay mostly inside the US military bases.
Afghanistan is a Welfare Program for Contractors and Big Pharma
Every U.S. soldier in Afghanistan costs us $2 million. And there are more than 26,000 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan now. It’s a giant welfare system for military contractors. Corporations like DynCorp, Halliburton and numerous other mid-sized contractors milk the U.S. taxpayers. Type in “military contractors overcharge” in a search engine, and you can spend a whole day reading articles that will make your blood boil.
Big Pharma is also invested in Afghanistan because of cheap opium from which the ruthless corporations make opioids and make billions of dollars while turning millions of Americans into addicts.
The U.S. has spent $100 billion on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan. And they have nothing to show for it. 80% of women between the ages of 15-24 are now illiterate. Afghanistan was way better off before America’s intervention in 1979.
There are geopolitical hawks who argue that we need the military base in Afghanistan to “contain” China or attack Iran in the future. This is a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy. The US should build influence through trade and diplomacy rather than through bullying and bombing. Contrast the American approach to China’s Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative) projects that have helped Pakistan by building seaports, highways, railways, solar plants, dams and more.
In summary, we are wasting $50 billion every year on Afghanistan and engaging in a futile effort which (a) won’t make us safer (b) is a waste of money we can’t afford (c) doesn’t address the root cause and (d) is harmful to Americans.
Chris Kanthan is the author of a new book, Deconstructing the Syrian War. Chris lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has traveled to 35 countries, and writes about world affairs, politics, economy and health. His other book is Deconstructing Monsanto. Follow him on Twitter: @GMOChannel