- Recent polling indicates that nearly three-quarters of veterans and more than two-thirds of military households would support a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- The survey underscores widespread desire among Americans, veterans and non-veterans like, to be done with the 19-year war, writes Defense Priorities fellow Daniel R. DePetris.
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The American people disagree on nearly every issue on the planet. But one cause the public is wholly aligned on is the necessity of finally removing US troops from Afghanistan after 19 years of bloody and expensive endless war.
US soldiers and their family members aren’t any different. According to a new survey published on April 22 by the Concerned Veterans of America, 73% of veterans and 69% of military households with at least one active-duty service member would support President Trump if he decided to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan. Support for a hypothetical withdrawal among veterans increased by 13 percentage points from previous year.
Overall, veterans also desire a more restrained approach in the world at large; 58% believe the United States should be less militarily engaged in conflicts around the world, a large majority compared to the 7% who believe more US military engagement is the best course of action.
What the numbers suggest is that finally following through on US withdrawal from Afghanistan would have widespread popular support from the men and women who have fought on the frontlines of a war that has long lost its purpose. The emerging coronavirus crisis in Afghanistan and President Trump’s legitimate concern that the health of US forces in the country could be at risk gives even more credence to a complete military withdrawal.
Washington has wracked up an enormous list of mistakes in nearly two decades of combat. Despite the reality on the ground, senior policymakers, four-star generals, and Pentagon spokesmen have made it a habit of outright deceiving the American people with false claims of progress, ensuring Washington’s involvement in the war continued far longer than it needed to.
Whether it included the colossal waste of US taxpayer money, the inadvertent fueling of corruption within the Afghan political system, or the unwillingness of senior officials to admit failure, the virtually endless amount of mistakes has culminated in tens of thousands of US casualties, trillions of dollars added to the national debt, and an Afghan government wholly indebted to international financial assistance.
The biggest mistake of the war, however, was the refusal of US officials early on to declare victory and go home.
The war has gone on for such a long period of time that one can be forgiven for forgetting why the US intervened in the first place — to decimate Al-Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan and punish the Taliban government for providing the group shelter and resources. The United States largely completed that objective shortly after the initial invasion in October 2001. In the winter of 2002, Osama bin Laden was bunkering down in Pakistan, Al Qaeda was obliterated as an organization, and the Taliban were pleading for surrender terms.
Rather than accept victory, Washington moved the goalposts to more ambitious objectives — like nation-building — that were completely detached from the original mission. US officials across three separate administrations set themselves up for failure. And by ordering the US military to solve problems that have no military solution, policymakers put troops on the ground in an impossible position.
Even today, peace in Afghanistan is hardly on the horizon. Dozens of Afghan security forces in the countryside continue to be killed by the Taliban on a daily basis. The Taliban have lost hundreds of their own men in the seven weeks since US and Taliban officials concluded their talks and signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar. Intra-Afghan negotiations that were supposed to begin on March 10 are instead in a state of purgatory, thanks to mistrust between the Taliban and Kabul. Add an electoral feud between President Ashraf Ghani and his former chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, into the mix, and the situation in Afghanistan looks like the antithesis of hope.
President Trump’s patience has clearly run out. During his latest trip to Afghanistan in March, Secretary of State Pompeo warned Ghani and Abdullah that their incessant squabbling could cost them US military and financial support. The State Department has already announced a $1 billion aid cut in response to the bickering, with another $1 billion reduction next year if Afghanistan’s political crisis isn’t resolved.
The poll from CVA reconfirms what many of us have long known: US veterans are just as fed up with the war as their president is. In fact, given their sacrifices, it’s highly likely they are even more frustrated with the status-quo. The only question left outstanding is this: Why is Washington hesitating to finally do what the American people are clamoring for and end the war?
Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.