What Will Happen When We Leave/Don’t Leave Afghanistan

A new argument for not pulling troops out of Afghanistan arrived in my email inbox just now. The argument is that it would be a nightmare for Afghani women if the Taliban re-took control of most of the country. The email cited a Time magazine story about an Afghani woman whose ears and nose were cut off by the Taliban because she ran away from an abusive husband.

I would point out that this incident happened last year, and the presence of American troops in Afghanistan didn’t stop it. However, the point seems to be that if the troops were completely gone, such incidents would increase many times over.

Another aspect of this story is that the Afghan government is exploring the possibility of negotiating a political accommodation with the Taliban to put an end to the fighting. Afghani women, understandably, view such an accommodation as a betrayal. I question whether any group as irrational and fanatical as the Taliban could be negotiated with, anyway.

The only fix to this problem I can think of is to turn back time to 2002, when the Bush Administration lost its focus (if, indeed, it ever had any focus) in Afghanistan because it was obsessed with Iraq. Which is to say, there are no fixes. This is a terrible situation that should not have been allowed to get this bad, but it was allowed, so there it is. And while the impulse to keep lots of troops in Afghanistan indefinitely to protect women from the Taliban is honorable, it doesn’t seem to me to be possible. How many troops? How long? At what cost? There’s a point at which resources run dry.

If the issue is protecting Afghani women, it seems to me the most practical thing to do is to establish lots of guarded safehouses (I’d be OK with leaving troops in country for that purpose) as well as helping women leave Afghanistan, with their children, and begin new lives elsewhere. Ultimately it’s Afghanistan itself that’s got to find the will and the means to rid itself of the Taliban.

Update: Outstanding response to this issue from Greg Mitchell at The Nation.

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