Liberally Speaking

Leaving Afghanistan

June 30, 2011

By Steve Mount

Just under ten years ago, our undeclared war in Afghanistan began.

The war against the Taliban and al Qaeda was a righteous one. Our actions there were supported by most Americans and by much of the international community. But even a righteous war takes its toll.

More than 1,500 American soldiers killed; almost 11,000 wounded, $427 billion spent. All of these numbers are “as of this writing.”

With the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, it is time for us to leave Afghanistan. Or, at the very least, it’s time to begin the long, slow, deliberate process of pulling out.
Fortunately, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he is ready to begin that drawback.

Currently, the United States has about 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. In his speech on June 22, Obama informed America, and the world, of our plans for some of those troops.

Beginning next month, pullouts will begin, and over the next year, Obama indicated that 33,000 US troops would be coming home. This still leaves a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. But it is a start.

The announcement, if you listened closely, did not say when we would be out of Afghanistan completely. Indeed, many Americans forget that we are not currently “out” of Iraq, so even though many consider that conflict over, it is not. Unfortunately, our continued presence in Korea and Europe, following the Korean War and World War II, may be a signal that it might be generations before we fully leave Afghanistan and Iraq.

The President did say that after the initial 33,000 come home, additional troops will leave “at a steady pace.” The mission of U.S. troops will transition “from combat to support.” The President said that by 2014, the transition will be complete, and Afghan troops will be fully responsible for their own security. Undoubtedly, however, our support role will not have ended, and we can expect to be in Afghanistan for the long haul.

What we did in Afghanistan was necessary; we have a commitment to stay there as long as it takes to make the nation able to stand on its own, and hopefully, in the long run, be a full and solid ally in the fight against terrorism.

I don’t want us to pull out of Afghanistan or Iraq too early, leaving behind chaos that could haunt us in the future. Were that to happen, all the blood that has been spilled and all the money that has been spent will have been in vain. But we cannot be the parent to these nations. We must have a plan, a strategy, to eventually pull out for good. The President also announced an international summit, to be held in May, to start making such plans for Afghanistan.

The President’s announcement is a step in the right direction. I wish he had made more firm commitments to pull out larger numbers sooner, and perhaps he will be able to make such moves as time wears on.

The President did rightly warn that the United States would continue to use its influence for the good of not only our people but of all people. He said that he would not bow to pressure from those who take a more isolationist stance, or from those who take a more interventionist stance.

“We must chart a more centered course,” he said.

“We must be as pragmatic as we are passionate,” he continued. “As strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force. But when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by and acting on our own. Instead we must rally international action, as we’re doing in Libya.”

And there’s the rub. We’re currently involved in three major conflicts. As in the cases of Afghanistan and Libya, we don’t always have the luxury of choosing when and where we fight. But because conflicts like the Libyan one will continue to crop up even as we are engaged elsewhere, we must always have a mind to the endgame.

The homecomings for those 33,000 troops now expected to be home by next summer will be bittersweet. For some troops, the departure will be the last time they step foot on foreign soil in a uniform. The homecomings, however, must also be a reminder of all those still serving “over there,” and a renewal of our commitment to bring them all home.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at or read his blog at