DN Editorial: Let's get out of Afghanistan

Posted: October 25, 2012

AFTER MONDAY night's third presidential debate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was a stand-in for Mitt Romney during President Obama's prep sessions, said he never expected Romney to agree with President Obama's timetable for leaving Afghanistan in 2014.

For most of the campaign, after all, Romney has attacked Obama for setting any date at all for withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan - at 11 years, now the nation's longest war. Yet the Republican did a reverse on Monday, promising that he too is for getting out in two years.

End of debate, apparently, which is why we wish that Sen. Kerry could have posed the question that he himself famously posed in 1971 after returning from combat in Vietnam: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

The American people are now as opposed to the war in Afghanistan as they were to that in Vietnam 40 years ago. An Associated Press poll in May found that only 27 percent of Americans still support the war while 66 percent oppose it, which puts it in the same territory as the height of opposition to Vietnam.

So why are both presidential candidates promising to keep combat troops there for two more years - and likely a so-called "residual force" after that? Why are we asking thousands of America's young men and women to be the last Americans to die for this mistake? So far, almost 2,100 already have, with another 17,790 wounded, and it has cost American taxpayers more than a half a trillion dollars so far.

After the debate, the professional fact-checkers were all over the candidates' assertions, including their references to the auto-industry bailout, exports to China and Romney's charge that Obama had made a world "apology tour" (a "pants on fire" whopper, they said). But the checkers were AWOL on the president's claim that the "surge" of 33,000 troops into Afghanistan in late 2009 - and which ended last month - was a success. It wasn't.

According to NATO forces' documents acquired by reporter Spencer Ackerman, things are worse in Afghanistan now than they were before the surge, with more attacks, not fewer. Even more troubling is the nature of some of those attacks.

The American exit strategy is predicated on training Afghans to fight the resurgent Taliban. But now some Afghan troops, taught to use lethal weapons, are using them on their American mentors. There's a name for the phenomenon: "green on blue" killings, which have claimed the lives of 50 coalition-force members so far. The attacks so rattled the U.S. forces that some of the training was suspended last month. It has now resumed, but after 11 years of failure it's hard to believe that something miraculous will happen in the next two, especially since some of "insider attacks" are not from the Taliban but from ordinary Afghans enraged at the occupation of their country.

Despite what the presidential candidates say or don't say, it's time for an orderly and safe withdrawal of our troops. And once we get out of Afghanistan, we need to take a hard look at the political system that allows our leaders to wage a war that most Americans don't want.

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