February 18th, 2009
05:40 PM ET

Getting Afghanistan right

Program Note: For more on what’s next in Afghanistan tune in to AC360° tonight at 10 p.m. ET. What is the end game? What is at stake? And Is the war winnable? CNN’s Joe Johns will be “Keeping Them Honest”.

The commander predicted the new troops will be operational before Afghan elections in August.

The commander predicted the new troops will be operational before Afghan elections in August.

Jon Soltz
Co-Founder and Chairman of VoteVets.org

In 2006, when I started VoteVets.org with a bunch of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, one of the things that drove me bonkers was when the media would describe us as “anti-war.” Yes, we opposed George Bush’s war in Iraq (in which many of us had served), but were very clear that we saw a necessary military component in Afghanistan. In fact, we said, Afghanistan was slipping away because of the diversion of military resources to Iraq.

I mention this because from the outset, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan recognized they were two very different wars, with two very different needs. That might be even more true today, as President Obama orders a remissioning of troops – sending 17,000 troops (including 12,000 combat troops) to Afghanistan, who were to be deployed to Iraq.

First and foremost, the Afghanistan/Pakistan region is where al Qaeda is based. The terror group is still mostly hiding out in caves, but is gaining breathing space as the Taliban spreads out and takes control of large chunks of the region. Allowing the Taliban to retake Afghanistan would put world security at severe risk, as the region would surely become the number one exporter of transnational terrorism. Say what you want about Iraq, but since the Sunni Awakening, exporting any kind of terrorism outside its own borders hasn’t been a danger. What warring factions there are in Iraq, they are internal.

Second, there is a real need for a healthy military presence in Afghanistan, just to hang on. The issue many of us had with George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq (besides going in), was that military action wasn’t coupled with the full force of American diplomatic and economic power in the region. Therefore, sending more and more troops there wouldn’t result in any kind of settlement. Hopefully, the Obama administration will take diplomacy much more seriously, and signs so far show that they are. Afghanistan has been without any real military and diplomatic efforts for the past 6 years, and that has allowed the situation to crumble. Right now, we need more forces just to hold back the Taliban and protect the Afghan people and the remaining infrastructure we’ve built for them. Additionally, more troops will allow us to scale back air strikes which often and unfortunately result in civilian deaths which only hurts our cause. The end result in Afghanistan must be diplomatic and political, but our hand in that process will be that much stronger if we are able to keep the Taliban from controlling the vast majority of the country.

It’s important to note that the President’s statement made clear that this troop increase does not mean his strategic review of the situation is done. I expect the President will lay out longer term strategy and goals in Afghanistan when that review is complete. But, bolstering our forces there now is a necessary step, so that Afghanistan doesn’t further collapse into a foregone conclusion – a region returned to the Taliban and pre-9/11 status.

Editor's Note: Jon Soltz is the Co-Founder and Chairman of VoteVets.org, the nation’s largest progressive group of military veterans. From May to September 2003, Soltz served as a Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying logistics convoys with the 1st Armored Division. During 2005, Soltz was mobilized for 365 days at Fort Dix New Jersey, training soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served with distinction in the Kosovo Campaign as a Tank Platoon Leader between June and December 2000.

Filed under: Afghanistan
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. ofelia castro

    Everyday we switch on the tv all we hear and see is the stimulus here and there. It seems they are so into saving the big people who makes millions but really have nothing to offer the little people like us. We work so hard and for every penny we earn we get taxed, left and right. One step forward and we take 2 to 3 steps backward. And it seems like Pres. Obama wants to go down in history as the first black and a powerful one.
    I am so tired of hearing about racial this and that when bad things happen to them but it is normal when things happen to white people. I remember in college when my black student friend said time will come they will take over America and the black people will rule. Why did America let The immigrants take over?

    February 18, 2009 at 10:45 pm |
  2. Neville Brand

    To Kathleen above,

    What we really need to stop pretending is the lie that we belong in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Middle East at all. Have you ever heard of John Quincy Adams? He was one of the forefathers and U.S. President. This is what he said:
    Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
    She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.... America's glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:13 pm |
  3. Tony M

    kathleen, I think there is some confusion and blurring in your words. I don't know what you chose to believe but I advise you to read the 9/11 comission. Al Qaeda came from Afghanistan and Pakistan where Khalid trained and met bin laden. Khalid was constantly on the move and lived only for a while in Kuwait... however, there was no major presence of Al Qaeda in Iraq till AFTER the U.S. invasion when the country went into civil war. Ignoring the irony aren't we? Spreading the mess was a big mistake.

    The 9/11 comission studying the motivation have concluded that U.S. economic/political/military support for Israel was the biggest impetus for the 9/11 hijackers, not the American way of life as we were lied to believe (Khalid was a student in the U.S. in the 80s and didn't leave wanting to destroy America because he hated the freedoms he saw here, etc).

    All actions, no matter how dispacable have identifiable causes , effects and motivations. It would be wise to study them and the long term goals of dealing with them and ending their underlying causes instead of just turning global assasins, invariably creating more targets and problems than you can kill.

    It's easy to look at the whole middle east as one amorphous evil but it also helps to have a clear eye of the cause and effect, there is some linearity here.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm |
  4. Robert DeManneris

    As a former U.S. Army Cavalry officer, I would like to share a soldier turned thinking man's thoughts about this new mistake we call a war. We failed to learn from the Japanese and the French in Indochina and we ended up in a decade long disaster called the Vietnam War. We ignored the lessons learned by the British in the 1920's and ran eyes wide shut into an long mess called Iraq. We once again are ignoring the lessons of history, learned the hard way by the British Empire and more recently by the Russians and are headed for a new Vietnam in Afghanistan. The Russians committed 100,000 soldiers for a decade and pulled out with their tail between their legs. That defeat helped bring an end to the Soviet Union as well. Whether we commit 75,000, 100,000, or 125,000 troops, those opposed to our presence will rally in large numbers to drive us out as they did the others before us. We are committing ourselves into another long and costly quagmire. Read it here first: There will be no victory for us in Afghanistan. Some day, a decade or so hence, exhausted and broken finacially, we too shall leave Afghanistan as just another defeated empire that refused to learn from history. My heart goes out to every soldier who will give his sweat and blood and honor to a cause we cannot win. Our political leaders it seems never learn. Do not allow misplaced patriotism to blind you to an imminent foreign policy disaster.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:05 pm |
  5. John Agnoli

    These terrorists were captured wherever they might have been at the time. It is, however, a proven and well known fact thar Iraq had no WMD (the official reason why we invaded) and tha al Qaeda was not in Iraq until after we arrived (and we did not kill thousands of them).
    They came because we were there.
    Also a proven and well known fact is that the Taliban and their "regime" have been protecting al Qaeda and other garden variety terrorists for a long long time. Thus, Bin Laden is still there (if he is alive) and both the Taliban and al Qaeda are returning in force in Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan.
    After several thousand of our soldiers were killed and wounded, over one hundred thousand civilians died and over 600 BILLION dollars were spent (all of this in Iraq) we are back to square one.
    If confirmation is necessary, several high ranking military commanders (US and Nato) have been saying this for a long time.
    It's very simple: We invaded the wrong Country using false reasons. This has got nothing to do with morals. It's a question of going after our true enemies, getting our geography right and not misleading us with fake intelligence.
    If our people really have to be in harm's way, let us do it for the right reason. Yes, even if Afghanistan has no oil.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm |
  6. Charles

    Kathleen McKinley, people like you are the main reason we got into these mess. You need to know the fact and know the reason. Please donot twist the fact. Al Qaeda had training camp in Afganistan, not in Iraq. Do you know why we killed thousands of al Qaeda in Iraq? Because they were wither new recruit or sneaked into Iraq because of our poor management of was in Iraq. We went to Iraq because of wrong reason (WMD, you forgot it, right?) And Bush made big mistakes to go into Iraq without proper planning. That's the fact.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm |
  7. Roland

    The cultures in Afghanistan and Iraq need to develop on their own, we can't impose democracy – it needs to grow... We can plant the seed, but, at the same time, the culture has to want it. If they don't want it, or are not yet ready, then we need to respect that as well and accept the reality that not everyone wants to be like the west – and that's ok! Now, that culture stuff aside, we need to get the job done, capture Bin Laden and get out.

    February 18, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  8. Dr. Donald Persons

    I tend to agree on the main thrust of the argument. As I have been studying Sharia law lately and the ethnic Pushtun code of living, I particularly agree that to avoid Pushtun "revenge" killings, which are part of the code for 42 million people (see wikipedia on this), we must cease to use air power in mixed crowds of "targets" and non-combatants. Secondly, the right to self-determination in the region has long been denied. So we should seriously consider allowing greater autonomy of historical regions. What does that mean for 42 million people of them who choose thier barbaric code of living? Those that want to leave, should do so now. Pushtun's should know the consequences of their desire comes with a price, if peace is to be found. Part of a peace settlement should include cutting the entire Sharia section off from movement of persons out of and economc goods into the Pushtun borders in all directions. In exchange they will have complete freedom to live their lives without foreign intervention and no attempts will be made by Western powers to further destablize their internal situation. They are a bee hive...leave them outside on in the wild where they like it. Don't bring the hive indoors to the community of nations.

    February 18, 2009 at 7:56 pm |
  9. pervez ashraf beg

    I have been to Afghanistan and was born in the North west frontier of Pakistan .I think we are making a big mistake making some body else fight ours fight. Their way of life is different than our ways of life and ideas.

    February 18, 2009 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Kathleen McKinley

    al Qaeda is based in Afghanistan, yet our soldiers manage to kill thousands of them in Iraq and also detained tens of thousands of them, including the top al Qaeda leaders, among which are those who planned 9-11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the first world trade center bombing and the murder of Daniel Pearl didn't live in Afhganistan, but Kuwait. Captured in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The highjackers of 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan. Mohammed Atef, the military chief of al Qaeda (also indicted for the 1998 embassy bombings) was from Egypt, not Afghanistan.

    So can we stop pretending that Afghanistan is somehow more moral of a war to get into than Iraq was. Let's stop pretending that we didn't capture or kill those involved in 9-11 (other than bin laden) in Iraq.

    No matter where our soldiers go to kill or capture these monsters, it's the right thing to do. Let's just stop acting like one place is more moral than the other just because of who our President happens to be at the time.

    February 18, 2009 at 6:15 pm |