Almost exactly nineteen years ago, a plane lumbered across the pocked runway of the Mogadishu airport and a young Marine, a veteran of two wars in three years, looked out of the departing plane’s window, sniffed and said, “Thirty days.” He was pretty close; less than forty days after the departure of the U.S. combat troops that had brought an end to fighting and starvation in Somalia, two dozen Pakistani soldiers were ambushed and massacred in that nation's capital. When Marines handed over combat outposts scattered across the bullet and mortar scarred city to Pakistani soldiers, one look in their eyes told them that the UN forces had no intention of manning the hard-earned bases and even less commitment to the relentless patrolling that had brought what passed for normal back to a war-torn country.
The U.S. had plenty of allies helping in Somalia, but the bulk of the combat power came from U.S. Marines and soldiers, and their departure left a giant vacuum that was quickly filled by violent clan leaders and, we now know, al-Qaeda operatives that, once again, threw the once-beautiful metropolis into mayhem and violence. Less than two months after regular U.S. forces headed for home, the United Nations was calling for help and 440 U.S. Rangers were sent in to Mogadishu. If you've read the popular book Black Hawk Down or have seen the movie you know how that story ends, bloodily for both sides and with Mogadishu back in the hands of warlords who continue to immiserate their fellow countrymen, foster piracy on the high seas and promote terrorism worldwide.
CIA says were planning attacks on sites within the continental United States. If we abandon Afghanistan like we abandoned Somalia before establishing a working representative government and creating an environment where peace can flourish, the vacuum we create will be filled by the Taliban or another despotic regime willing to force their totalitarian schemes upon its largely pastoral and peaceful people at the end of a gun or the blade of a sword and to foment terror worldwide.
Last week, some deftly stupid politicians were circulating a story that combat deaths in Afghanistan have increased threefold since Barrack Obama became president. The fact that deaths in Iraq have been cut by 90 percent under President Obama was, apparently, not worth reporting. The truth is, neither story was worth reporting because the statistics themselves are worthless when not tied to what is happening on the ground in those countries.
For those with short memories, shortly after Afghanistan was invaded the bulk of military efforts were focused on the useless invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks, nothing to do with al-Qaeda and we now know, held no weapons of mass destruction. With the exception of some Special Forces units fighting bloody battles in a hunt for Osama Bin Ladin, major operations in Afghanistan were put on hold while almost 4,500 U.S. servicemen were losing their lives in Iraq. It wasn't until major combat operations were concluded in Iraq that attention was shifted to the real problem, Afghanistan. Since Barrack Obama has become president, the number of combat troops on the ground in Afghanistan has more than doubled, and in the last two years long overdue operations to rout Taliban fighters from Kandahar and Helmand provinces have been launched. That casualties would come from important missions left undone by the previous administration seems to be commonsense, but commonsense is a trait that seems to be largely missing among our elected leaders.
The political objectives of those Iraq War cheerleaders now calling for a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan and a suspension of operations in Libya are so pathetically transparent that it's hard to imagine anyone being able to report on them with a straight face. For rank opportunism, politicians now cite budget deficits as a reason to abandon, not only our objective of building a government in Afghanistan that was is a threat to its people or its neighbors, but to the tens of thousands of Afghans that have committed themselves to our stated goals. Young and old Afghans have joined the police, the military or stepped up to fill positions in local and national government, and if we leave, their lives are forfeit. It's ironic that as we prepare to celebrate our Declaration of Independence, loud voices are calling upon us to betray the trust of those who share our belief that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are human rights guaranteed to all by our creator.
It is too soon to leave Afghanistan. Our hasty departure will guarantee failure of our stated goals, destabilize the region, provide encouragement to our enemies and discredit any future efforts to promote democracy and human rights around the world.