Friday, March 27, 2009

President Obama, Afghanistan, and My Brother.

Yesterday President Obama announced plans to send another 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in addition to the 17,000 that are already there or are on their way. My brother is one of those 4,000. He's had his bag packed since January 2008; two months after he returned from being in Iraq for over a year. I was concerned when my brother went to Iraq, yet I felt peace about him being there. I don't have that same peace as he leaves for Afghanistan and I'm worried.

Say what you will about the war in Iraq, our troops knew what they were doing there. Yes, most of us were fooled, perhaps even lied to about weapons of mass destruction. Still, there were overlying objectives. Even now, the troops I've talked to and the ones my brother has served with and communicated with said that in Iraq they had a purpose but there really is no objective in Afghanistan. My brother has been in constant communication with fellow soldiers that he served with in Iraq who are already in Afghanistan. They serve willingly, but all have said there seems to be no purpose for them being there and the lack of specificity has increased since President Obama was innaugurated.

There are many who will say that the U.S. had no business in Iraq and we should have been focusing on Afghanistan all along. Those who say that might or might not be wrong. The truth is, that though we've been directed to focus on Iraq, we never left Afghanistan. We've had troops there since late fall 2001. Even though the Taliban no longer reigns, the situation is much more dangerous in Afghanistan than it ever was in Iraq. The casualty rate in Afghanistan is almost three times as high as it was in Iraq at the height of the conflict when there was so much "resistance". Most people don't know this because the media has not been reporting about Afghanistan the same way they did about Iraq. Casualties in Iraq were common headlines in newspapers. Yesterday four more soldiers died in Afghanistan and their deaths didn't even warrant any headline in the largest metropolitan paper near me (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

We have done a lot of good in Afghanistan since overthrowing the Taliban. For instance, the unemployment rate was over 60% before the Taliban was overthrown. It's now just below 40%. We've built roads, hospitals, schools, etc. We helped the people of Afghanistan hold their first elections in nearly three decades. These are good things. Yet, Afghanistan is such a backward country, I don't know if it means much.

For instance, in Iraq there was an infrastructure in place before we invaded. We only had to help rebuild it. There is hardly any infrastructure in Afghanistan and the majority of what it does have has either been built by foreign powers occupying the country, drug dealers, or terrorists. Opium production in the country has skyrocketed and neither the citizens or government seem to really care. The illiteracy rate is a staggering 67% and once again there seems to be little concern. Oh, and even though the U.S. has helped cut the unemployment by 20%, the unemployment rate is still around 40% (for comparison the current U.S. unemployment rate is about 8%). Then there's the history of war in the country. Afghanistan has a long history of war and violence and the country has been a quagmire for ever major military power in modern history (British & Russia to name two biggies) that has occupied it (there is a theory that the trouble with Afghanistan is what caused the Soviet Union to finally collapse). And that's what really worries me.

Our President is sending 4,000 more troops to Iraq and my brother is one of them. They will answer the call to duty faithfully and serve willingly, but I don't like it one bit. May God be with each of them and bring them home safely.

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