Monday, April 5, 2004

Remember Afghanistan?

I supported the invasion of Iraq. I didn't need the justification of WMDs for us to go in there. Saddam Hussein was an evil man who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people (many of them his countrymen) and that appealed to me. I would have liked more worldwide support before the Army and Marines rode in, but the absence of international consensus still did not sway me. I waved my American flag with pride as our soldiers went in to fight.

It has been a year since we toppled Saddam's regime and the death toll is quickly rising. But still I can not help but feel that we did the right thing. Pat Tillman’s name was not the first causality to come across my war-torn TV screen. His recent death received a lot of press for who he is, what he had done, and the millions he had given up to serve. But the coverage of his death forced Afghanistan into my mind – a place I had almost forgotten about in lieu of Iraq.

When the bombers starting flying and the payloads started falling in Afghanistan – an impossible two and a half years ago – there was great attention given to the role of American ground troops. We did not want to be stuck in a costly ground war. We did not want to endanger our troops unnecessarily in a tedious occupation with little international aid.

I am having a hard time trying to discover why this policy was changed in regard to our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

I turned to the 2005 federal budget and began looking up the numbers for what we are doing and spending to help rebuild Afghanistan and support our troops there. The US maintains about 15,000 troops in operations there, with significant multinational and NATO support. Iraq, on the other hand, is occupied by close to ten times as many US troops with a lower relative value of international assistance from the waning coalition of the willing.

Why isn't the US presence in Afghanistan bigger? Why don't US forces combat insurgency among the Afghan warlords the way they suppress the Sadr army or Fallujah militants in Iraq? Why aren't there 100,000 soldiers hunting down Osama bin Laden? Is it okay to risk our troops' lives in Iraq but not in Afghanistan? Saddam was a danger to the region and the world, to be sure, but he did not attack our cities, attack our allies, and plot to do it time and time again until our defeat.

So the underlining question remains: Why don't we have 138,000 troops in Afghanistan? I can’t help but think that if we had that many boots on the ground that we would not still be talking about the hunt for bin Laden – except in the past tense.

In 2005 alone, it is budgeted that the US will spend $1.2 billion in Afghanistan and $21 billion in Iraq for reconstruction efforts. We hear on the news every day about our commitment to Iraq while Afghanistan rarely garners a mention; it sits quietly in the political corner, warlords ruling much of the countryside, the US-backed Kabul government struggling.

This is what angers me. Not that we are in Iraq but that we are we not equally in Afghanistan. It make me wonder where the priorities have gone. fb

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