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October 15, 2012 7:27 pm

The New York Times Changes Its Position on Afghanistan

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avatar by Ed Koch


An American soldier provides aerial security from the rear door of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over the Khost province in eastern Afghanistan. Photo: US Army

In a full-page editorial this past Sunday, October 14th, The New York Times publicly revealed its new position on our remaining in Afghanistan until December 2014 as proposed by the Obama administration. The opening paragraph of the editorial states that “it is time for United States forces to leave Afghanistan.” The editorial urges that the U.S. begin the immediate withdrawal of our armed forces from Afghanistan to be completed in a year or less.

The Obama administration’s position is that the bulk of our forces will have left Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but that coalition forces would remain on in reduced numbers after 2014. The editorial states, “He [Obama] and the coalition partnership have committed to remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014 at reduced levels which could involve 15,000 or more to carry out specialized training and special operations.”

My recollection is that President Obama wanted our troops to remain indefinitely in Afghanistan, as he wanted to do in Iraq. The Iraqi government would not agree and insisted we leave. The Times editorial gives President Obama credit for leaving Iraq. I don’t believe such credit is due. We left because Iraq would not allow us to remain there indefinitely and insisted that if we did remain on at all, American troops would be subject to Iraqi law and Iraqi courts for all of their military actions, which the U.S. would not agree to because it would have exposed American soldiers to personal liability in Iraqi courts.

In Afghanistan, whose government is not as strong and independent as Iraq’s, we concluded the deal to stay through 2014. In addition, The Times reported, “The United States and other major donors have pledged $16 billion in economic aid through 2015.” Further, “There is an agreement to finance the [Afghan] army to 2017 with Kabul paying $500 million, Washington about $2.5 billion and other donors about $1.3 billion.”

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I believe the Obama administration will seek to keep American troops in Afghanistan, leveraging our funding commitments to get our way. Up to now, the presidential candidates, Obama and Romney, have not discussed the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

The change in position on the part of The Times means that The Times will now demand the candidates address the issues of this war, and its cost in lives and treasure to the U.S. To date, 2,139 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, 17,674 have been injured and $575 billion spent with our expenditures now estimated at $1 billion a week. The Times summed up the cost to the U.S. in this war, which is lost, stating, “But it is now clear that if there ever was a chance of ‘victory’ in Afghanistan, it evaporated when American troops went off to fight the pointless war in Iraq. While some progress has been made, the idea of fully realizing broader democratic and security aims simply grows more elusive.”

The worst vote I cast as a member of Congress in the nine years I served was to end the draft, thereby creating a volunteer army. If those in the armed forces were still draftees, their relatives and friends and other Americans concerned about justice and sanity would be out in the streets demonstrating, and this election would look more like the one we held in 1968.

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