afghanistan war end

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The Forever War Sputters to an End

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, polls showed a remarkable nine in ten Americans supported the action. After all, we had just been attacked by an organization headquartered there, so it seemed only natural that our military would go in, hunt down the culprits, and punish them and those who helped them. But the years dragged on and on, and it eventually became clear that we weren't rooting out al Qaeda but trying to establish stability and democracy in a country that is a stranger to both. Meanwhile, over 2,000 American servicemembers have given their lives, and half a trillion dollars of our money has been spent on a war whose original purpose is all but forgotten.

Barack Obama has pledged that our troops will be coming home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. But no one seriously believes that by then the Afghan government, such as it is, will have a firm hold over the country. Unfortunately, there's little to suggest that we could bring about that stability if we stayed an extra year, or five years, or twenty years. So a report in The New York Times today comes as little surprise. "Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai," they write, "President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a 'zero option' that would leave no American troops there after next year."

Can anyone blame him? Some might protest that if we leave too soon, the Taliban could take over again, or the country could devolve into chaos. And yes, either of those things could happen. But they could happen just as easily a few years from now, notwithstanding all the hard work and courage of the Americans who have served there.

Supposedly, before the Iraq war, Colin Powell warned George W. Bush that if he broke Iraq, he'd have to fix it. Afghanistan was broken long before we got there, and all our efforts to put it together don't seem to have succeeded. It was probably an impossible task from the beginning, and it would have been far better if we had set out finite military goals, accomplished them, and left a decade ago. Much as we'd like, we can't turn back the clock. There is almost certainly more misery ahead for the people of Afghanistan. And probably little we can do to stop it, whether we stay or go.

So They Say

"You know, you need to stop watching these people, because they’re not gonna change. ... Your blood pressure is gonna suffer if you keep watching these people. I mean, they’re designed to get you ticked off. They’re designed to make you question your sanity. You’re gonna watch these people, you’re gonna say, ‘How in the world can we have such idiotic people?’ And you’re gonna think maybe they’re not and you’re crazy.”

Rush Limbaugh, telling a caller not to watch Fox News

Daily Meme: Middle East on Edge

  • Fifty-one people have died in Egypt since Morsi was deposed.
  • One, 20-year-old Anas Mahfous, was killed while trying to help other protesters. 
  • Foreign Policy explains the deteriorating circumstances thusly: "Let's make this abundantly clear: No one should be pleased with the division and bloodshed playing out in the streets of Cairo right now, particularly as military repression escalates. But let's also make this abundantly clear: One man bears the ultimate responsibility for the crisis of leadership—Mohamed Morsy."
  • Things don't look promising, and tensions are starting to spread.
  • All in all, even excluding Egypt, the Middle East has had a stressful week. 
  • At least 21 people have died in attacks in Iraq.
  • The humanitarian crisis in Syria is worsening, and the rebels are flailing. Even Syrian television shows have been engulfed by the conflict.
  • As mentioned above, President Obama is considering a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • With so many variables unknown, and the changing tides impossible to qualify as "good" or "bad, the region's future is a big question mark that looks more ominous by the day.

What We're Writing

  • Conservative Greg Abbott is the favorite to win the governorship in Texas. Abby Rapoport writes that progressives won’t like him any more than his predecessor.
  • One of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul's aides has stated support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Jamelle Bouie thinks this should surprise no one.

What We're Reading

  • Republican women are not impressed with the men lording over the abortion issue in their party.
  • Al Jazeera obtained a report revealing what Osama bin Laden was doing all those years while he was off our radar. He are the ten most revealing details.
  • Molly Redden unpacks the difficulty of reporting on donor couples.
  • What changes do employers have to grapple with post-DOMA?
  • Whodathunk? Most of the world's military coups since 1991 have resulted in competitive elections.
  • What kind of world do we live in when Rand Paul is seen as a moderate?

Poll of the Day

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has successfully wooed more than 50 percent of likely voters in both the Democratic primary and the general election, according to a new poll released by Quinnipiac University. For the primary, Booker leads his biggest opponent by a shocking 42 percent, and he wins the most likely general election scenario over probable Republican candidate, Steve Lonegan by 23 percent.

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Twin Afghan Bombings Kills 20 Civilians

A pair of suicide bombers struck outside NATO's biggest base in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 20 civilians and wounding 50, officials said, in one of the bloodiest attacks in recent weeks.

And officials and villagers in Logar province, about 30 km south of Kabul, said a NATO air strike killed 18 civilians, including women and children, along with six Taliban insurgents.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said there was an air strike in the area during a raid on a Taliban commander, but there were no civilian deaths. It said two women received non life-threatening injuries and that a number of insurgents were killed.

Four provincial governors from the south were at a meeting at the sprawling NATO base in Kandahar when the twin suicide attacks took place, General Abdul Hameed, Afghan army commander for the southern region, told Reuters.

A bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up in a parking lot near the base packed with truck drivers and other civilians waiting to get into the facility.

A few minutes later, as people gathered at the site of the blast, another bomber on foot walked into the crowd and detonated his explosives, said Ahmad Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

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Afghan Parliament OKs Security Pact

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog look at a Taliban position after they attacked the Combat Outpost (COP) Boston in Kherwar district in Logar province, eastern Afghanistan, May 25, 2012. 

Afghanistan's parliament approved on Saturday a strategic pact between Kabul and Washington, clearing the way for a U.S. presence in the country for at least a decade after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

"This was done for the interest of Afghanistan," said Daoud Kalakani, an MP from Kabul. Around 180 MPs were present and only four voted against, Kalakani said.

The deal, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai in Kabul on May 2, sets out a long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan, including aid and advisers.

Most of the contentious parts of the pact, which could have seen the obstructive parliament reject the deal, had earlier been removed and dealt with separately, including giving Afghans control of controversial night raids on homes and prisons used to detain insurgents.

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Karzai Balks After Civilian Deaths

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul May 3, 2012.

The strategic pact sealed by President Barack Obama last week in Afghanistan is at risk of becoming "meaningless" if Afghans do not feel safe, Karzai said on Monday, referring to recent civilian casualties inflicted by NATO.

Karzai summoned U.S. General John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker to his palace to discuss the civilian deaths, a longstanding thorn in ties between Karzai and his Western backers.

The killing of civilians has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces in a war that is becoming increasingly unpopular and is dragging into its 11th year.

"Karzai signed the strategic pact with the United States to avoid such incidents (civilian casualties) and if Afghans do not feel safe, the strategic partnership loses its meaning," a presidential palace statement said, referring to an agreement setting out a long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan.

The statement added that dozens of civilians had been killed in the eastern provinces of Kapisa and Logar, northwestern Badghis province and the southern Taliban stronghold of Helmand over the past three days in NATO air strikes.

A spokesman for NATO said the air strikes were under investigation, and the palace statement quoted Allen as saying: "I personally take responsibility for these incidents."

Last year, hundreds of angry Afghans across the country took to the streets to protest the killings of civilians by NATO forces, who are planning to leave their combat role by the end of 2014.

Obama swooped into Afghanistan for the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death on May 2 to sign the strategic partnership, which lays out plans for future aid and advisers.

The deal may provide Afghans with reassurances that they will not be abandoned when most NATO combat troops leave as planned in 2014.

IRAN REJECTS STRATEGIC PACT

In a sign of brewing tension with neighboring Iran, members from the lower and upper house of parliament, or senate, sharply condemned earlier remarks by Tehran's new ambassador to Afghanistan, who has criticized the strategic pact.

"We ask Iranian officials to draw a line under their direct and indirect interference in Afghanistan... The harm Iran is causing is very painful," senate member Nisar Haris told reporters on Monday.

Haris said he attended a closed-door meeting last week with Iran's envoy Abu Fazel Zohrawand, who was accepted by Karzai late last month, during which he rejected the strategic pact with the U.S.

An official at the Iranian embassy in Kabul defended the ambassador's alleged remarks, saying: "The pact signed between Afghanistan and America will put the Islamic Republic of Iran's security under threat in the future".

"With our 950-km (594 miles) border with Afghanistan, we have the right to be concerned by bases which are created near Iran," the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the prospect of long-term U.S. military bases.

Though ties between Afghanistan and Iran have improved since the Taliban was ousted just over a decade ago with Washington even saying Tehran could help stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, the relationship remains extremely fragile.

Female lawmaker Shukria Barikzai described the Iranian envoy's rejection of the pact as "Iran's official start in Afghan interference".

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