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Reflections on a debacle—the Afghanistan war

By Mary Hladky

As the mother of an Army Infantry Officer who served for 13 months during Obama’s Afghanistan surge, in the Zhari District of the Kandahar Province, I feel tremendous relief that President Biden is calling the troops home from Afghanistan. I also feel an overwhelming sadness for the men and women who served in Afghanistan, especially for those who did not come home, were injured (physically or mentally), or committed suicide. I also feel great sadness for the huge losses and suffering the Afghan people endured and will continue to endure in their homeland, destroyed by 20 years of war.

As the Afghanistan Papers confirmed, the military and the U.S. government knew early on that the Afghanistan War was a debacle and could not be won. Leadership did not understand Afghanistan; it did not have a strategy, nor could it define what winning meant. Yet our government and military were unwilling to admit the Afghanistan war could not be won, damn the consequences. These tragic decisions have destroyed people on all sides.

So what exactly did the Afghanistan war accomplish?  The government has spent over $2 trillion dollars on a war that has brought us the death of 2,378 U.S. military men and women, plus more than 20,000 injured, which does not include those suffering from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Moral Injury, and those who committed suicide. Add the deaths and injuries of our allied troops and military contractors. Also, we must not forget the untold numbers of civilians who died or were injured, and the millions of Afghan refugees and internally displaced Afghans.

The U.S. government will leave Afghanistan in the hands of a corrupt and inept government, which the U.S. backed for almost 20 years, as well as in the hands of the Taliban, which currently controls over half the country. Without an effective U.N. negotiated peace plan for power sharing, it is very likely that the Afghanistan government will collapse, leading to much more internal violence. Twenty years of war and U.S. interference have brought no long-term, positive gains in Afghanistan.

We did not bring peace, democracy, or freedom. Afghanistan’s elections were flagrantly fraudulent. We did not improve the lives of the Afghan people. The necessities of life are in short supply—water, electricity, health care, education.  And there are no jobs other than the opium trade, which supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium—a big contributor to the opioid epidemic.

This is shameful, very painful, and must never happen again. Our government needs to find a way to make this right.  No more funds to the corrupt Afghanistan government. At the very least, the U.S. needs to find a way to provide real support to the Afghan people, ensuring they have water, electricity, basic health care, housing, and educational opportunities.

What we do know is: War is not the answer. Not in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. When will we learn that war and violence are not the path to a better world? Peace must be our demand. We need to invest our time, intelligence, and money on diplomacy, bringing people together to solve the world’s problems so we can all live in a flourishing world.

—Mary Hladky, vice chair of PeaceWorks-KC, also belongs to United for Peace and Justice and to Military Families Speak Out.

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