I am a private-sector civilian working alongside the U.S. military here on the front lines in Afghanistan. I am part of the “civilian surge,” investing 16-hour days to win the hearts and minds of Afghans by mentoring the Afghan National Army, Police and Border Patrol.
I am here because freedom is every Afghan’s natural right. But I confess that as I get ready to leave, I’m fed up. I’ve come to believe that we want their freedom more than they do.
Afghan courage still hasn’t replaced Afghan corruption. Afghan self-determination hasn’t replaced Afghan dependency on the American Treasury. Ancient Afghan tribal customs still haven’t modernized Afghan treatment of women (though I’m told I can’t judge that because I have a Western bias). Am I supposed to remain silent as my dollars support Afghans who want more money for corruption, dependency and tradition?
The rolls of the Afghan army are swelling. We’re buying more unemployed men. Recruits are being processed at a blistering pace. We call this progress. But do these Afghan men really join to fight for their liberty? Or do they join the fight to get an Afghan army paycheck that was “made in America”?
I’m amazed how many Afghan army officers speak fluent Russian and were educated in the Ukraine. Why? When the Soviets invaded, many Afghans became willing stooges who worked the guaranteed jobs that were funded by the Soviet Union.
The Soviets committed mass genocide on noncombatant Afghan civilians in the summer of 1980, after the Mujahedeen denied the invaders a speedy conquest, yet Afghans still stood in line for Soviet-paid jobs. When the Taliban was evicted, Afghans took the guaranteed jobs bought and paid for by the Americans.
Does it really matter who the new sheriff is? Thousands of deputies will line up for the next round of jobs after a quick oath and a new pledge of financial allegiance.
There are 25,000 Taliban and al Qaeda extremists lurking in nearby Pakistani caves. When will Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, populated by 29 million people and secured by 200,000 soldiers and police, fight for their own freedom?
This isn’t about former President George W. Bush, President Obama, Congress, military strategy, our generals or our soldiers.
This is about the heart and soul of the Afghan people. Where are they? Are they asleep in our wallets? After 10 years, don’t we have a right to know what we’ve bought, bled and died for?
If the Afghans can’t find their unified voice, if they can’t find their unified spirit, if they can’t fight for their own collective freedom, isn’t it time we cut off their national paychecks and bring our kids home?
Truth be told, we won this war a long time ago. But 3,500-plus days of what’s become a humanitarian war – already at a cost of $460 billion, 1,571 American lives and more than 10,000 wounded – creeps on. Our men and women in uniform have served valiantly in a war that will cost us $150 million today.
We’ve forgotten how to define “winning,” so we’ve allowed “mission creep” to redefine the war.
In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, where was the mandate from Congress or the American people to nation-build in Afghanistan? Have we asked the greatest fighting force on the planet – morphed from the defenders of freedom into global policemen – to serve now as construction workers in frontier conflict regions?
As America and Great Britain launched airstrikes in 2001, President Bush defined the mission as “to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime. … Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice.”
We won this war a long time ago.
Safe sanctuary has long since been denied. Osama bin Laden wasn’t in Afghanistan when the Navy SEALs greeted him with the long arm of American justice. An uprooted Taliban now resorts to hiring suicide-vest-wearing cowards dressed in Afghan army uniforms as two-bit criminals bury improvised explosive devices in the dead of night.
Now is the time to stop this insane and expensive mission creep, bring our conventional forces home and let our special operations forces, diplomats and drones turn off the lights.
Bring our soldiers home today and let the Afghans defend their freedom tomorrow – if they want it. Don’t worry. I work with the Afghan soldiers every day. I know them, and I know history is repetitive. After we leave and the paychecks stop, they won’t be unemployed very long.
By Paul McKellips, a civilian contractor for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.