Washington, DC – Ten years ago this week, America went to war in Afghanistan. At 1:00 PM on October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush told the world, “On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.”
At the conclusion of his seven-minute broadcast from the White House Treaty Room, he pledged: “The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waiver; we will not tire; we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.” Now, a decade later, his successor will determine whether that pledge is kept.
The fight that began just 26 days after the 9-11-01 terror attacks started with near simultaneous raids on Taliban air defenses, command, control and communications nodes, and al Qaeda bases by sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-1 and B-52 bombers from Diego Garcia and U.S. Navy and Marine aircraft operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea. B-2 Spirit stealth bombers conducted scores of 14,000 mile-round-trip missions from their bases in Missouri, dropping precision-guided munitions on Taliban and al Qaeda positions. From bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD) and U.S. special operations personnel entered Afghanistan to support Northern Alliance troops intent on unseating the Taliban. On November 12, they liberated Kabul.
Thirteen days later, SAD officer Johnny “Mike” Spann – a former U.S. Marine Captain – became the first American to die at the hands of the enemy in Afghanistan. He was shot and killed during an uprising at a Taliban detention center near Mazar-e-Sharif after interrogating an American jihadist, named John Walker Lindh. Since then, more than 1,700 Americans have been killed in action or died of wounds inflicted in Afghanistan. Other Americans, like Anwar al-Awlaki and Adam Gadahn, became radical Islamists and joined the jihad. And now, commander in chief Barack Obama – who once called Afghanistan “the necessary war” – simply wants to abandon the fight and get out. Apparently, most of our countrymen agree.
According to a recent CBS News poll, 58 percent of Americans believe we should not be fighting in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. This week, the Pew Research Center released a survey showing that only 50 percnet of veterans who served in the military since the attacks of 9-11-01 believe the war in Afghanistan has been worth the cost in lives and treasure. The Obama administration, ever sensitive to public opinion, is wedded to the notion that “unmanned drones” (correctly named, remotely piloted aircraft – RPAs) are sufficient to prevent another 9-11-like attack. The president insists that all 33,000 American “surge” troops must be withdrawn by next summer and that U.S.-NATO combat operations will cease in 2014.
Office seekers, incumbents and pundits across the political spectrum claim that the demise of Osama bin Laden means we can “bring the boys home.” That’s a great slogan for politicians who weren’t in office when the fight started and those who opposed U.S. involvement from the beginning, but it’s never been a formula for victory in a war.
Despite anti-military bias in the mainstream media, poll-driven political rhetoric and pseudo-intellectual drivel about America’s “failure” at “nation building,” the war in Afghanistan is being won. The metrics for such an assessment are widely ignored by opponents of American “exceptionalism.” But here some key indicators:
When U.S. (and British) forces arrived in Afghanistan 10 years ago, the national illiteracy rate was 75 percent and fewer than 1 million boys – and no girls – were enrolled in schools that taught anything more than Islamic religious studies. Today there are more than 6 million children in school – a third of them girls.
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were non-existent a decade ago. Tribal and regional warlords had private armies, and the Afghan National Police was hopelessly corrupt. Fewer than 10 percent of the soldiers and cops could read or write. Thanks to the U.S.-led NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A), there are now 172,000 well-trained and -equipped troops in the Afghan army and 135,000 police officers, and all new recruits are being taught to read and write.
Afghan troops and police are now responsible for security in nearly 30 percent of the country. Though Taliban-affiliated terrorists still occasionally launch spectacular suicide strikes from sanctuaries in Pakistan, overall enemy-initiated attacks against U.S. and NATO troops are down 20 percent from a year ago.
As U.S. and NATO troops pull out of the fight, Pakistan’s support for the Taliban insurgency remains the primary threat to a peaceful outcome in Afghanistan. That’s why Afghan President Hamid Karzai now insists that any future “peace talks” must include representatives from Islamabad. This week, Karzai went to New Delhi and closed a deal for India to increase security assistance to the ANSF when the Americans withdraw.
The Karzai overture to New Delhi is seen as “provocative” at the White House. It’s actually a vote of “no confidence” in our commander in chief and his vacillating, ambivalent commitment to a stable, secure and economically viable Afghanistan. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie put it this week, Mr. Obama has “failed the leadership test.”