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Graveyard of Empires

To the Editor:

Per the New York Times (NYT), the British, over an 80-year period, fought three wars in Afghanistan, occupying or controlling the country and losing thousands of people. The British left in disgrace in 1919.

Additionally, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, reportedly trying to quell a civil war and lend support to Afghan governmental allies. The Soviets left unsuccessfully in 1989.

The United States, under President George W. Bush, launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” in 2001 supposedly to avenge the attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon when nearly 3,000 Americans perished.

Interestingly, an unidentified individual used the sobriquet, “Graveyard of Empires,” to refer to the aforesaid powers whose advertised missions in Afghanistan failed miserably.

Operation Enduring Freedom essentially evolved into a fiasco. After Bush left office, Presidents Obama and Trump continued to prosecute a war deemed unwinnable by numerous generals and political pundits. To his credit, when Biden was Vice-President, he encouraged President Obama to end the war. Instead, Obama, in his first few years in office, added about 70,000 more troops to Afghanistan. (NPR)

President Trump made a deal, setting a date for U.S. withdrawal of troops, with the Taliban, a terrorist organization, the forerunner of which was the Mujahideen, supported by President Jimmy Carter in the summer of 1979 before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. By the way, most people are not aware that 1979 was when the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan in a meaningful way.   The Mujahideen were anti-communist, an important consideration for the U.S., given our Cold War posture at the time.

Was our twenty-year war in Afghanistan worth our time and money? We apparently did not learn from Vietnam after Saigon fell in 1975 and the North Vietnamese closed in. President Lyndon Johnson had no solution for the Vietnam War. Similarly, Presidents George W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden had no solution regarding Afghanistan. Sadly, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan cost over $2 trillion. (USA Today)

According to Reuters, between 2002 and 2017, the U.S. gave the Afghan military an estimated $28 billion in weaponry, including guns, small drones for intelligence gathering, and rockets. Moreover, NPR reported that, since 2003, the U.S. provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 infantry weapons, including M16 assault rifles, 162,000 pieces of communication equipment, and 16,000 night-vision goggles.

Per Wikipedia, over 47,245 civilians, 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan military and police and more than 51,000 Taliban fighters have been killed as of April 2021. Also, the Project on Defense Alternatives estimated that, between October 7, 2001 and January 1, 2002, over 1,000 civilians were killed by the U.S.-led aerial bombing campaign.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the courageous acts of our soldiers. Without the brave men and women who put their lives on the line so that we may live, we would not have a democracy. Moreover, American citizens have a moral obligation to extend a debt of gratitude to the military and pray for those who make honorable sacrifices and sustain battlefield injuries and scars.

Keith W. Cooper

Greenville