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Column - It's time to pull troops out of Afghanistan

It's about time the United States pulls out of Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel. Carrying on a "holding-action" war there, after all these years (nearly 12 to be exact), is becoming as absurd as our long involvement in Vietnam. At this point, the Afghan war is America's longest war.

The final straw is the fact that so many in Afghan "security units" have been murdering American military personnel. It has become an accelerating outrage in recent months. In this year alone, more than 50 Americans have been killed cold bloodedly in the most treacherous, cowardly attacks. These vicious sneak attacks are comparable to what occurred in Vietnam, when American soldiers could never be sure just who the enemy was, when some apparently friendly city people and villagers would turn into assassins or suicide bombers at the drop of a hat.

America's involvement in Afghanistan was not a waste of time. Our presence there helped decimate many al Qaeda terrorists in nearby Pakistan; it also helped keep the Taliban at bay -- the extremist Taliban that had provided training camps to al Qaeda and had cruelly oppressed their fellow Afghans.

With help from the British, the American military drove the Taliban from the country's capital, Kabul, in the first weeks of the war. Now being harbored in Pakistan (like members of the al Qaeda network), the Taliban continues its insurgency into Afghanistan with no end in sight. The United States and other forces from the National Atlantic Treaty Organization attempt to train the Afghan military so it can prevent further Taliban inroads and, hopefully someday, render those extremists powerless.

But, along with Taliban aggression, there are further dilemmas, such as age-old tribal conflicts in some areas of Afghanistan and instability caused by crooked war lords. The rugged terrain makes for an infinite number of hideouts for insurgents. The country's leader, Hamid Karzai, has always been tainted with corruption and two-faced dealings with America, as has Pakistan.

Because of all those complicated reasons -- and more -- Afghanistan is a treacherous place to conduct a war. President Barack Obama and NATO forces do have an exit strategy in which our direct involvement is supposed to cease by the end of 2014. After that time, training and equipping the Afghan army will continue. That may be a noble goal, but will it work? Will Afghan military members and security forces continue to kill those who are trying to help them?

More than 2,000 American men and women have died in Afghanistan, and many more have been seriously wounded; wounds that will plague them the rest of their lives. Allied forces have lost at least 1,000. Many Americans who served in that country were assigned to multiple tours of duty. The United States has spent nearly $500 billion on the war in Afghanistan.

Those men and women served magnificently, far above and beyond the call of duty. Their loved ones at home also paid a price.

Hasn't America made enough sacrifices in that country? It would be wonderful to think that Afghanistan can someday, somehow, morph into a semblance of democracy. But when is that miracle going to happen? And how?

If the military cannot shore up security to protect American military personnel from being killed by the very ones they are trying to protect, then this war has become a cruel folly of the worst sort. A war with battle lines drawn is one thing; a war in which supposedly "friendly" cohorts murder their protectors is quite another thing.

Obama should consider making an exit date earlier -- that is, as soon as possible, as early as the end of this year.


Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at