More reason to leave Afghanistan now
Afghanistan has become a fiercely inhospitable place for U.S. troops in recent days. Bloody anti-American protests, ignited when members of the U.S. military mistakenly burned copies of the Quran a week ago, have claimed the lives of two American soldiers and two American NATO officials. The violence has punctuated all the good reasons for getting out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Yet President Barack Obama remains doggedly committed to the mission in Afghanistan. His withdrawal plan calls for keeping combat troops there until the middle of next year and then handing off responsibility for security to the Afghan military and police, who will be advised by U.S. special forces teams. That strategy is becoming more complicated as the cooperation and trust between Afghan and U.S. forces is undermined by the ongoing crisis.
The Afghan security official who shot two American NATO advisers in the back of the head Thursday was trusted with access to one of the most tightly secured areas of the Interior Ministry in Kabul. And it was a man wearing an Afghan army uniform who coldly shot two U.S. soldiers to death Thursday at a base in Eastern Afghanistan, while protests against the Quran burning raged outside.
Similar protests have erupted around the country in the week since U.S. military personnel accidentally incinerated copies of the Islamic holy book, in a pit of burning trash. Burning the Quran is a grievous affront to Muslims. American troops should have known better.
A grenade attack on Sunday wounded at least seven American soldiers at a base in northern Afghanistan. And the U.S. military shut down a dining hall at a base in eastern Afghanistan on Monday because of suspicion that the food may have been poisoned with bleach. What a few weeks ago was an undercurrent of anti-Americanism is now a palpable fury.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai hasn't been particularly helpful. With political concerns of his own, he first expressed outrage at the Quran burning before, appropriately, appealing Sunday for calm.
Obama has been taking flak at home from Republican presidential hopefuls and others for apologizing for the Quran burning. The criticism that apologizing makes him and the United States appear weak is ludicrous. When you inadvertently insult allies and foment a dangerous situation for 100,000 American troops, the responsible thing is to try to defuse the controversy. Unfortunately, the criticism in an election year will make it politically difficult to do the right thing in Pakistan and provide an overdue apology for an errant drone attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last fall.
After 10 years in Afghanistan, it's clearer than ever that the United States has overstayed its welcome. Our troops have done virtually everything they were asked to do. The Taliban is out of power. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida's leadership has been decimated, and the country is no longer a base of operation for the terrorist group. Afghanistan has a democratically elected national government.
With the Afghan people now turning furiously against U.S. troops, it's time to bring our men and women in uniform home now.