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Why Are We Still There? When Do We Leave?

My children go to a small Christian private school. One of the most popular teachers has been called up to go to Afghanistan for another tour. He will leave behind his wife, children, and school. My kids are distraught. My oldest asked me a question for which I have no answer: why are we sending soldiers to Afghanistan?

Nineteen years ago, before my children were born, terrorists who trained in Afghanistan and coordinated with the Taliban government plotted and carried out the 9/11 attacks that killed over two thousand Americans. President George W. Bush rallied the nation and launched an invasion of Afghanistan to root out the terrorist masterminds and end the Taliban’s rule. The situation proved more difficult that our military leaders assured us. Undoubtedly, part of problem was American pride wanting to show the Russians that we could tame a country that Russians still call their Vietnam.

Even a decade ago, I could have rationally explained to my kids why we went into Afghanistan and why, nearly a decade later, we were still there. The government struggled. We had not exterminated the Taliban. We needed to help the government get on its feet. We needed to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist safe haven.

But now nearly twenty years removed, the situation has not changed. In fact, in a breathtaking report from the Washington Post with a treasure trove of documents from the Pentagon, it turns out our military leaders do not know why we are in Afghanistan either. The government continues to be corrupt. In fact, corruption is systemic and endemic to the various tribes and political classes inside Afghanistan.

The American government failed at the core task of taking out the Taliban. The American government further failed to establish a sound government capable of taking out the Taliban after we left. We are now failing by propping up a kleptocracy that has no desire to change.

Both Presidents Trump and Obama have wanted to leave Afghanistan, but we are still there. The situation in Iraq provides an understandable reason for why we are there, but I cannot fathom a reasonable explanation for why our soldiers are still getting killed in Afghanistan. The only plausible explanation at this point seems to be the pride of our military leaders. But our young men and women should not die for the pride of others who cannot admit failure. It is a failure.

President Trump should begin winding down our operations in Afghanistan now. If he refuses, he should provide some reasonable expectations and goals. It is clear from the military documents uncovered by the Washington Post that our military leaders do not really know why we are in Afghanistan anymore and those under them have no idea what they are doing. This is not good stewardship of our military or resources and it is terrible for morale.

More importantly, we are raising a new generation of Americans cynical about the use of American power. When our children see their teachers, parents, older siblings, and family friends head off to a country on the far side of the world unable to explain why they are going, we risk undermining our kids’ faith in institutions and willingness to serve a cause greater than themselves.

Afghanistan was once a cause greater than any one person. Afghanistan did give a safe haven to terrorists and help them plan attacks against the United States. Afghanistan was run by a rogue government of Islamic fundamentalists. But now, Afghanistan is run by a corrupt regime that makes some of its people wistful for the days of the Taliban.

Someone needs to tell us why we are still going there. Someone needs to tell us when we will leave or under what conditions we will leave. Someone needs to tell us what our soldiers are actually doing there. Someone needs to provide goals and purposes. That should be the commander-in-chief. If he cannot do it, we should leave tomorrow.

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