The Afghan War is Brutal, Expensive, Unpopular, and Ineffective – So Why Are We Spending Billions on It?
"The sad truth is that Obama’s war policies have turned out to be even more of a nightmare than I expected.” – Malalai Joya, A Woman Among Warlords
While millions of Americans are experiencing unemployment, wage stagnation, rising tuition, dwindling social services, and poverty at levels not seen since the Great Depression, an unjustifiably large proportion of our taxes are being used to cause death and destruction in Afghanistan. With Afghanistan being the longest war the U.S. has ever officially waged, we should carefully examine the costs of the war - financial and otherwise - and ask ourselves, is it really worth it?
The war costs taxpayers between $500,000 to $1 million per soldier in Afghanistan every year. Since President Obama deployed thousands of more troops than Bush, the escalating war has come with a bloated price tag. So far, we have spent $336 billion on the war, and if Congress approves a request for additional funding, that number will go up to $455.4 billion – nearly half a trillion dollars. According to CostofWar.com, just the $120 billion in additional funding could fund 1.6 million elementary school teachers for a year, 1.9 million firefighters for a year, or $5,550 Pell Grants for 19.3 million students. A single month’s expenses on the Afghanistan war could pay for 46.9 billion meals for the hungry each month. Six months’ worth of Afghanistan war expenses could pay for school supplies for every single child in the world.
In addition to its financial price, the Afghanistan war is costing real human lives. Over the course of the entire war, at least 1,400 U.S. troops have been killed and over 10,000 wounded. The rate of deaths is also increasing, as more than a third of the total troops killed (499) died just during the past year. The price paid by ordinary Afghans is even greater. Not counting so-called insurgents, at least 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 were wounded in just the first 10 months of last year – these are most likely conservative estimates. The rate of Afghan civilian deaths is up 20 percent compared to the year before, directly corresponding to the increased troop levels under President Obama. In fact, over the course of the war, U.S.-led military actions have resulted in more direct civilian deaths (5,791 - 9,060) than “insurgent”-led actions (4,949 - 6,499).
Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan has no more legitimacy than Egypt’s embattled Mubarak regime. The 2009 elections in which President Hamid Karzai claimed victory were condemned internationally as fraudulent. Released documents showed that 100% of votes from dozens of polling places in provinces like Kandahar were for Karzai. Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission received thousands of complaints of fraud. Journalists easily purchased voter registration cards on the black market. Despite documentary evidence of criminal activity implicating top government officials and Karzai himself, the U.S. continues to legitimize the central government as the only alternative to the Taliban. There is also little criticism beyond vague assertions of “corruption” of members of the Afghan Parliament. Many Afghan MPs have a history of bloody war crimes, particularly during the post-Soviet era of the early 1990’s when tens of thousands of civilians were maimed, raped, and killed often with U.S.-supplied weapons. Today, those same men, considered the Taliban’s ideological brethren, control private militias, suck up millions of dollars of aid for their private gain, terrorize civilians, and are neck-deep in the drug trade.
It is no wonder then that leading Afghan activist and former Member of Parliament, Malalai Joya, wants the U.S. and NATO out of her country. Having come face-to-face with the brutality of war and the power that U.S.-backed war criminals wield, Joya has been demanding an end to the occupation for years. In her book, A Woman Among Warlords, just out in paperback, Joya explains the situation of ordinary Afghans: “[w]e are caught between two enemies – the Taliban on one side and the U.S./NATO forces and their warlord allies on the other.” She goes on to say that “for our people, Obama is a warmonger, like Bush. He follows the same disastrous policies, only with much more determination and force.”
Joya is the most outspoken Afghan to have been elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament. She is beloved by her people for daring to speak out against U.S.-backed war criminals that dominate the government and is targeted by those very warlords. In fact, Joya has survived at least 4 assassination attempts. She represents a majority of Afghans that want neither a foreign occupation with its fundamentalist lackeys in government nor their enemies the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Despite this, her opinions are rarely reflected in U.S. media.
By most accounts, violence is increasing. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), attacks in Helmand and Kandahar rose by 124% and 20% last year compared to 2009. Furthermore, the violence has now spread to parts of the previously more peaceful North and East, but the U.S. military and its spokespeople continue to cast their failures as successes. For example, in a recent letter to U.S. troops, General David Petraeus said, “Throughout the past year, you and our Afghan partners worked together to halt a downward security spiral in much of the country and to reverse it in some areas of great importance.” He went on to cite specific progress in the Afghan capital Kabul as well as the traditional Taliban strongholds of the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, ignoring the fact that the number of attacks there are increasing. The ANSO, which provides security advice for organizations operating on the ground in Afghanistan, said in its quarterly report, “No matter how authoritative the source of any such claim [of progress], messages of this nature are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion.” As Malalai Joya says in her book, “It is all a lie – dust in the eyes of the world.”
Like Malalai Joya, most Afghans are painfully aware of the war’s spiral into violence and mayhem: a November 2010 survey by the Afghan Center for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research found that favorable opinions of the U.S. have hit an all-time low of 43% among Afghans. More than twice as many Afghans now blame the U.S. and NATO for violence compared to a year ago. Afghans are also less optimistic about the availability of jobs and economic opportunities, freedom of movement, and the rights of women compared to a year earlier. Americans share the Afghan opinion that the troops should leave. A CNN Opinion Research poll last December found that 63% now oppose the war.
In the last chapter of her book, Joya details her recommendations on how the world can really help Afghans, the first of which is to the end the U.S.-NATO war. She also explains the real humanitarian needs of the Afghan people that the international community could fulfill, and how this would have to go hand-in-hand with disarmament, especially of the warlords that have enjoyed foreign support for so long. Finally, Joya ardently demands all foreign troops to withdraw from her country, making a strong case for how any outbreak of civil war could be minimized through responsible international diplomacy.
According to Joya, “the truth about Afghanistan has been hidden behind a smoke screen of words and images carefully crafted by the United States and its NATO allies and repeated without question by the Western media.” Joya will speak directly to American audiences this spring in a nationwide tour intended to expose the brutality and futility of the war and clear the smoke screen. Her speaking tour comes ahead of a major push by antiwar activists to organize bi-coastal events protesting the Afghanistan war on April 9th and 10th 2011. Starting in mid-March, Joya will begin her tour in New York. From there, she heads to New Jersey, Washington D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington state, and California. Joya’s tour will culminate with her participation in San Francisco’s April 10th Antiwar Demonstration. Details of Malalai Joya’s Spring 2011 tour are online at www.afghanwomensmission.org.
Joya’s words can help Americans clear the “dust from our eyes” and face the reality that for all our sakes, the Afghanistan war must end sooner rather than later.
Sonali Kolhatkar is Co-Director of the Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based non-profit that funds health, educational, and training projects for Afghan women. She is also the host and producer of Uprising Radio, a daily morning radio program at KPFK, Pacifica in Los Angeles.