The Landing Zone | 4.19.11
By Alan W. Dowd

the war in Afghanistan has gone on for nearly 10 years now, claiming some 1,460 American lives. It’s no wonder why the American people have tired of the war and turned against it. In fact, a recent CNN poll reveals that 58 percent of Americans oppose the war, and 54 percent think the U.S. should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. To be sure, Americans have a right to say they have done enough for Afghanistan. A decade is a long time to sacrifice for a faraway land. But given the nature of the enemy in Afghanistan—not to mention what Afghanistan spawned 10 Septembers ago—there are few places on earth more deserving of the American people’s help and the American military’s attention. 

Much of what the Taliban did while in power—and continues to do while trying to reclaim power—is too gruesome to describe here. The Taliban employed beheadings, mutilations, summary executions and the like to control the Afghan people in the 1990s. But a brief overview of the Taliban’s inhumanity may help to explain why some of us continue to support the U.S military’s herculean efforts in Afghanistan.  

First, we must never forget that it was the Taliban that provided sanctuary to al Qaeda, which used Afghanistan to plan and launch the 9/11 attacks. Depriving the enemy of this safe haven is the reason the war on terror began in Afghanistan and continues in Afghanistan, especially through efforts to build and strengthen the institutions of a post-Taliban government. 

Second, the Taliban may claim religious piety but the reality is that they are bereft of any religious enlightenment. This enemy is as brutal and barbaric as anything Americans have faced in the past. For example: 

  • The Taliban have launched poison-gas attacks against schools for girls, using substances found in insecticides, herbicides, sarin and VX to terrify, sicken and murder people for the crime of wanting to learn.
  • When they’re not poisoning schools, they’re burning them. The Taliban set fire to 60 schools in 2010.
  • Taliban field regulations obtained by NATO forbid working as a teacher “under the current puppet regime.” Any teacher who refuses to quit his or her job, according to Taliban rules, “must be beaten.” If someone teaches “contrary to the principles of Islam, the district commander or a group leader must kill him.”
  • The Taliban are using children as human shields and time bombs. Some of the kids are only five years old. As The London Telegraph reports, children as young as 14 have carried out suicide-bomb attacks. The Taliban use children to carry weapons, identify allied commanding officers for Taliban snipers and plant IEDs. One in five roadside bombs in the city of Sangin, for instance, is planted by children, according to the British military. “They know that we won’t engage the kids,” said one British commando.
  • The UN reports that Afghan civilian casualties were up 31 percent in 2010 and places the blame squarely on “tactics of the Taliban and other anti-government elements (AGEs).” The Taliban’s toll is falling heaviest on children, according to the UN. “Among those killed or injured by the Taliban and other AGEs were 55 percent more children than in 2009.”
Given this barbarity, it’s no surprise that the Afghan people support the U.S.-led NATO effort to fight the Taliban and create a viable post-Taliban Afghanistan. According to polling conducted by ABC, 62 percent of Afghans support NATO forces, 75 percent say attacks against NATO forces are not justified and only 6 percent of the country supports a return of the Taliban government. 

“For Afghanistan to be able to survive,” defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak recently said during a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “it will need your help beyond 2014.” 

Speaking to U.S. commanders in late 2009, Wardak explained why the war-weary Afghan people have not turned against the NATO mission: “Afghans have never seen you as occupiers, even though this has been the major focus of the enemy’s propaganda campaign. Unlike the Russians, who imposed a government with an alien ideology, you enabled us to write a democratic constitution and choose our own government. Unlike the Russians, who destroyed our country, you came to rebuild.” 

Indeed, not only did the U.S. military liberate 26 million Afghanis by closing the book on the medieval Taliban; it also has laid the foundation for something better. 

Backed by the muscle of the U.S. military, American relief agencies have built or renovated 640 health clinics, 680 schools and 4,000 miles of road to connect the fragmented country of Afghanistan. USAID reports that some 6 million Afghan children are now in school—about 2 million of them are girls—and more than 4.6 million Afghan refugees have returned home since 2001. 

In other words, the American people and their military are offering Afghanistan the very opposite of what the Taliban promises. Let’s hope the Afghan people seize the opportunity—and soon—because America is growing impatient.

The Landing Zone is Dowd’s monthly column on national defense and international security featured on the American Legion's website.