Time To Pull Out Of Afghanistan

Nine years into a war that seems to be without end, it's time to declare victory and go home.

Today, The New York Times reports that the United States has begin to withdraw from an Afghan valley that, only six months ago, it was describing as crucial to victory:

KABUL, Afghanistan — After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

The reorganization, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war.

American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.

“If you continue to stay with the status quo, where will you be a year from now?” General Campbell said. “I would tell you that there are places where we’ll continue to build up security and it leads to development and better governance, but there are some areas that are not ready for that, and I’ve got to use the forces where they can do the most good.

Sounds like smart military strategy under the circumstances, the problem is that it’s an argument that could, and should be applied to the entirety of the entire Afghanistan situation at this point:

Vice President Biden said in Afghanistan last month that “we are not leaving if you don’t want us to leave.” At the NATO summit in Lisbon, the president said that we’re in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

But for what? Why do we need to sacrifice more American lives? Why must we continue to align ourselves with a government that commits fraud in elections? Instead, why aren’t we using all our resources to go after the terrorists that murdered so many of our civilians on Sept. 11, 2001?

What are we giving up to maintain the status quo? Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz told the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September that the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, including interest payments on the money borrowed for these wars and care for our wounded soldiers and veterans, is likely to total $4 trillion to $6 trillion.

Simply put, we believe the human and financial costs of the war are unacceptable and unsustainable. It is bankrupting us. The United States should devise an exit plan to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan, not a plan to stay there four more years and “then we’ll see.” This doesn’t mean that we abandon the Afghan people – rather, we should abandon this war strategy. It is a failure that has not brought stability to Afghanistan and has not enhanced our own security. As the retired career Army officer Andrew J. Bacevich has written, to die for a mystique is the wrong policy.

It is easier for politicians to “go along” rather than make waves. But we were elected to do the right thing, not what is politically expedient. The discussion of Afghanistan shouldn’t be about politics, which we acknowledge are difficult, but what is right for our country. And the right thing is to end this war.

The above quote comes from an Op-Ed by Democratic Congressman James McGovern and Republican Congressman Walter Jones, and they’re absolutely right. We entered Afghanistan with one mission; to crush al Qaeda and it’s sponsors the Taliban. For the most part, that mission was accomplished in relatively short order. The Taliban Government collapsed within weeks, and those members of al Qaeda who weren’t captured or killed in the initial months of fighting quickly scattered elsewhere, most to Pakistan where they are protected by Intelligence and Army officials of the nation that is supposed to be our ally in this “war on terror.” In fact, it’s fairly clear that the Bush Administration’s obsession in the years after 9/11 with attacking Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the terror attacks that killed 3,000 of our citizens, diverted both attention and resources from the hunt for al Qaeda members. Perhaps if we hadn’t engaged in a hasty, foolish, and mistaken military adventure in Iraq, we would’ve been able to crush toe remaining elements of al Qaeda before the scattered to the four winds.

Our mission in Afghanistan today, though, has nothing to do with al Qaeda and everything to do with propping up a corrupt government led by a man who very clearly cheated his way through the last two national elections. We’ve said that U.S. troops would start to leave the country this year. Then that deadline was pushed back to 2014. Now, it seems like the commitment is entirely open ended. All of this despite the fact that public support for the war itself is at an all-time low. The American people want us to leave. The Afghan people aren’t even sure why we’re there. And, there is absolutely no sign that the Karzai government will be any more stable or popular with the Afghan people three years from now than it is today. It’s time to end this foolish crusade before we end up regretting as much as the Soviets came to regret their own misadventure in the Hindu Kush.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Africa, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Is there a penalty for early withdrawal?

  2. ponce says:

    The big mistake was declaring war on the Taliban.

  3. DC Loser says:

    The Soviets did that too in the 80s.

  4. Matt B says:

    Again, I don’t see this happening until the second term (or next administration), unless public opinion goes so far south that it’s a safe move.

    In at least this one respect, it’s Vietnam all over again. And in general I suspect it’s easier for a Republican president to get out of a war then a Democratic one.

  5. The Q says:

    Hmmm, lets see, I suppose there are a few lessons of history which are immutable:

    – Never attack Moscow during the winter

    – A land war in China is too be avoided at all costs.

    – Afghanistan is the burial ground of empires.

    We need to get the frigg out of there ASAP and use that money to develop much more sophisticated and all encompassing security measures here at home.

    No, I don’t mean body cavity searches by TSA, but rather examining air and sea cargo for wmds….isotope scanners in big cities to catch dirty and other nuclear bombs….more human intel capabilities to infiltrate groups here in the U.S who may pose threats.- (no I don’t mean Democrats)

    These can be done at a fraction of the cost of the wars and will have the added benefit of actually making us “safer”.

  6. – Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

  7. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    – Democrats will undermine the war effort for political gain.

  8. ponce says:

    -You don’t on tug Superman’s cape
    -You don’t spit into the wind
    -You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
    -And you don’t mess around with Jim’

  9. The Q says:

    HANGA,…why does that small photo of you remind me of the “chucky” character in the horror movies?

    Also, please explain how the dems have undermined the war effort for political gains?

    Please explain f you are capable of responses of more than 100 words.

  10. george says:

    – Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

    Beat me too it. Its inconceivable.

  11. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    HANGA,…why does that small photo of you remind me of the “chucky” character in the horror movies? lol…cause there is a flag in the picture?

    Also, please explain how the dems have undermined the war effort for political gains?Obama.

    Please explain f you are capable of responses of more than 100 words.oops….

  12. wr says:

    Hey GA — I didn’t realize you were currently serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your serivce.

  13. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    I didn’t realize you were currently serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your service.lol, I can mostly understand you wr, but you lost me….

  14. mantis says:

    Also, please explain how the dems have undermined the war effort for political gains?Obama.

    You’ve convinced me! Stellar argument.

  15. The Q says:

    GA, Obama is undermining the war effort?…yeah, by increasing the Defense budget by 6% this fiscal year, by sending more troops to Afghan, by extending the patriot act?

    Sure sounds like a true turncoat.

  16. anjin-san says:

    Getting out sounds good. Difficult to do though, as conservatives will excoriate Obama even though it is the right thing to do and they know it.

  17. wr says:

    GA — Since you are such a supporter of our continued war effort in Afghanistan, I made the obvious assumption that anyone who was so convinced of its necessity would have volunteered and done his part for victory.

    Sorry if I misread you.

  18. Jib says:

    And in general I suspect it’s easier for a Republican president to get out of a war then a Democratic one

    I dont think the historical evidence supports that. Nixon was in Vietnam longer than LBJ and only left because a Democratic congress pulled his funding.

    I am not sure the base would let a republican leave. Republicans have made a fetish out of fighting until victory which is very hard to do when no one can define victory.

    Eisenhower did end fighting in Korea but we never left, still have not. I expect we wont leave Afghanistan either, we never leave anywhere. I dont know if we can stay but not have combat.

  19. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    GA, Obama is undermining the war effort?…yeah, by increasing the Defense budget by 6% this fiscal year, by sending more troops to Afghan, by extending the patriot act?

    It’s the reason we have a union puppet in the white house. And it has happen before, every time since I have been alive.

    You’ve convinced me! Stellar argument.

    How would I ever convince you of anything?

    Sorry if I misread you.

    Very much so, but whats new?

  20. Albee says:

    I was in Vietnam and I really thought we had a good opportuinity. Too close to the situation. Yes, we can get ahead for awhile, but the Taliban can withdraw into the mountains and regroup. They will be back as strong as ever!

    The current situation proves we do not have unlimited resoureces as the Taliban and NVA/ / VC have and had. We have 2 or 3 million patriots and a lot of slackers. You don’t win without unconditional surrender and a total commitment.

    Obama saw an opportuity for a little glory and by announcing the pullout in advance a better than average chance to come out with a smile.

  21. ponce says:

    “We have 2 or 3 million patriots and a lot of slackers. ”

    Oh now, I bet we have plenty more patriots than that who are willing to actually defend America.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    We have 2 or 3 million patriots and a lot of slackers.

    Indeed, and among those slackers we have neocons and similar detritus who all talk big but never do anything to personally take the fight to all the enemies they claim we have…

  23. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    I say we pull out the Troops and build a couple hundred million drones, Maybe more.

    That way we can keep up the pressure and stop losing so many noble young Americans.

  24. Ole_Sarge says:

    Unless you go into a conflict, with all the resources needed and competent leadership in the front leading the way… don’t go to war.

    A country’s military forces are to fight and WIN in combat, not be yet another human resource staffing agency and social experiment in progress.

    If you “let go the dogs of war” you have to “let go” of their leashes first, you take up the leashes AFTER they have accomplished the task you gave them to do.

    We would have buried less of our sons and daughters, have fewer in rehab after surviving grievous injuries if we as a nation DID STAND BEHIND our forces, and LET THEM DO THEIR DUTY.

    As it has been, and as it remains, only more precious resources, like our sons and daughters will be wasted. Our political leadership are weak cowards, who squander, bicker and back stab. Until we really do have a unified (and mature) national leadership, time to bring the “toys” inside. Bring our forces and children home if you have no stomach for the real fight we are engaged in.

    My husband and I were lucky in our careers to come home, and thus far, our son has survived the crucible of war. So far.

  25. mannning says:

    Once I thought I understood why we were in Afghanistan, but the mission has crept up and up to where our pride and prestige have gotten in the way of rational planning. We cannot do anything long-lasting for the Afghinistanis; we cannot take on Pakistan as well, though that is probably where our original target is hiding and being protected by the Pakis! Our logistics are a nightmare; and the Taliban is able to choose where and when they fight, or else retreat into their redoubts in the mountains; the terrain is a brown moonscape not worth fighting over; the puppet government is a joke; and, damn it, we are losing troops. I have seen no grand plan to subjugate the Taliban, and doubt it would succeed anyway.

    I see three possible courses: 1) continue about as we have been; 2) withdraw completely and forget about it; or 3) Draw back into the several provinces around Kabul and make them secure, then use that base as a springboard for the trained up Afghans themselves to try to extend their control over adjacent provinces. The ony course that makes any sense to me is (2) withdraw. I do not trust the Afghanistani troops we have armed and trained, and Pakistan is becoming a deep thorn in our side.

  26. mannning says:

    Oh, and don’t take a knife to a gunfight.

  27. Rob in CT says:

    Somewhere along the line, the Enemy became the Taleban, which is made up of the primary ethnic group in the country (and a good chunk of the neighboring country)… the Enemy is now a significant portion of the local population. That’s not a good idea. Even if the Taleban did shelter A-Q and is generally full of assholes. They got their smackdown in the initial invasion. But then we (note: we is obviously a bit of slight-of-hand for me, as I neither planned nor participated in the war) didn’t get the Big Kahuna and somehow decided that we must “drain the swamp.” Not to mention fighting the War on Drugs whilst trying to fight the War on Terror… what a mess. I have a relative over there right now. Another (her sister) just got back, thankfully unharmed.

    Obama had a chance to get this right, with that big “policy review” he did. He didn’t get it right.