Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?

Although U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has a lot of history, it was 9/11 that most recently propelled U.S. troops into combat in the country. Just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-President George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom. The war against global terrorism, said Bush, included the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al-Queda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in the region. That mission continues today.

Other countries have supported America in this endeavor, but after 11 years of warfare, says Andrew Katz, Denison associate professor of political science, many of those countries have decreased their commitment, seeing no end in sight.

President Barack Obama aims to reduce the United States’ involvement as well. In an address in June of 2011, he announced his intention to move from a combat mission to a support mission in Afghanistan, reducing the 68,000 U.S. troops serving there to roughly 10,000 by 2014. Additionally, he said, there would continue to be an emphasis on training Afghan forces like the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Police. “But a support mission does not mean you don’t fight,” says Fadhel Kaboub, assistant professor of economics, who teaches courses in political economy. If the U.S. and NATO troops pulled out completely, the Taliban, a violent fringe group that often bills itself as “the freedom fighters,” could come back to rule the country. “There is no existing solid foundation for governance, security, or stability in Afghanistan,” says Kaboub.

Corruption within the government and ethnic infighting are major contributors to that instability. Three prominent ethnic groups, Pashtun, Tajik, and Hazara, are distributed among tribes and within 34 provinces. The divisions breed violence between the ethnicities and often among the tribes within these groups—all currently trying to work together in the Afghan Army.

And those are not the only divisions contributing to violence in the region. While some Afghans believe that American and NATO forces are necessary for stability in the country, others support a U.S. and NATO withdrawal. In some cases, these conflicts have led to “green-on- blue” attacks, in which Afghan forces turn their guns on U.S and NATO troops.

“The U.S. has put itself into a situation,” says Kaboub, “where the longer it stays, the worse the problem gets in terms of creating animosity, contributing to innocent casualties, and justifying the Taliban’s position and fueling their support base.”

This September, anti-American sentiment came to a head when riots broke out throughout the Middle East and Afghanistan, after a low-budget movie, “Innocence of the Muslims,” by a California filmmaker ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad and spewed anti- Islam sentiments. According to Katz, many in the region believed that the movie had approval from the United States government. In Kabul, hundreds of Afghans burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base.

Kaboub says the video is another incident in a long line of problems between the Afghan people and the United States. “There were a lot of other issues that the Afghan people were unhappy about,” he says, including the American Drone program and the seemingly unending U.S. occupation of the country. “I don’t know how to fix the situation there, but I know it’s not going to be easy.”

Published October 2012