Statement of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
President Obama’s recent decision to send 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan is part of a larger trend of escalating violence in a country renowned for being a graveyard of empires. After adding 21,000 US troops to Afghanistan in March 2009, the months of July, August and October 2009 were the deadliest months for US troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Continued attacks against civilians have stoked anger and resentment among the people of Afghanistan.
The US invasion and occupation of Iraq have shown that true stability and democracy cannot be imposed through violence. Even with a US force of over 100,000 troops, Iraq remains an extremely dangerous place, with daily bombings, kidnappings and killings. Many people in Iraq still lack basic necessities such as electricity and clean drinking water. By some estimates, more than one million Iraqis have been killed in the war and more than four million have become refugees.
The president’s decision to add nearly 50 percent more US troops to the occupation of Afghanistan will, together with troops from other NATO countries, bring total troop levels to around 150,000 – approximately the same number of troops deployed by the Soviet Union in their failed war in the 1980s.
According to US intelligence agencies, there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and there are serious tensions between al Qaeda and the Taliban. Even if the Taliban were to prevail in Afghanistan and offer al Qaeda a “safe haven,” it would be unlikely that al Qaeda would accept it, preferring instead to maintain the “invisibility” of a non-state network.
Therefore, it is reasonable to ask the question, “Will the president’s decision to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan make the United States more secure?” For the following reasons, we believe this question must be answered in the negative.
Sending more US troops to Afghanistan will lead to more US casualties. The war in Afghanistan has already claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 US troops and has severely impacted the lives of countless others through repeated deployments, serious injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sending more US troops to Afghanistan will create more casualties among the Afghan people. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion are estimated at between 12,000 and 32,000. More than 200,000 Afghan people have been displaced. Increased US troop numbers in Afghanistan are likely to result in increased civilian deaths, injuries and displacements.
Sending more US troops to Afghanistan will breed more extremists. A US intelligence report in early 2009 showed that only one-tenth of enemy fighters in Afghanistan are ideologically-motivated Taliban; the vast majority are fighting against foreign occupiers or for personal economic gain. The continued war in Afghanistan will perpetuate conditions conducive to recruiting by al Qaeda and other extremist groups. Civilian casualties, indefinite detentions and destruction of property only create more extremists.
Sending more US troops to Afghanistan will lead to increased financial burden. It is estimated that it will cost an additional $1 million per year for each individual troop sent to Afghanistan. According to the National Priorities Project, total US costs for the war in Afghanistan in 2010 are estimated at $325 billion. Especially at a time of high unemployment, economic hardship and a massive federal budget deficit in the US, this spending is not responsible.
Sending more US troops to Afghanistan will weaken US military readiness. By adding more troops in Afghanistan, President Obama will stretch the US military even thinner, leaving fewer troops in reserve, causing more repeated tours of duty, and reducing our capacity and readiness to respond should other conflicts arise.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The military is the wrong tool for solving our problems in Afghanistan. It is akin to using a chainsaw for surgery rather than a scalpel. The most effective ways to deal with extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, are through international cooperation in intelligence gathering and law enforcement. A recent study by the RAND Corporation shows that only seven percent of terrorist groups were defeated by military force in the past 40 years.
For the reasons set forth above, we urge Congress not to fund additional troops in Afghanistan. Instead, Congress should help in funding the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s infrastructure and support the Afghan people in building institutions of social justice such as schools, courts and health care clinics. Respect for the US in Afghanistan and around the world would increase significantly by providing even a small fraction of the resources currently being spent on the war in Afghanistan for these constructive purposes.