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The risks of staying in Afghanistan far outweigh the risk of withdrawal

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Last Wednesday, President Trump declared that after 19 years in Afghanistan, it is time to “bring our soldiers back home.” The U.S. military, the president, correctly added, had effectively been reduced to, “acting as a police force.” Though Trump’s words alarmed many, observation of ground-truth reality confirms the president’s declaration as being right.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a prominent advocate of extending our stay in Afghanistan, was quick to oppose Trump’s intent to withdraw from Afghanistan. In a letter sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense, Graham instructed the officials to certify that any agreement with the Taliban would “further the objectives” of leading to the long term defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS. Conducting a “non-conditions based withdrawal” from Afghanistan, the senator wrote, would be “horrendous for our national security interests.”

If the senator had his way, he — and those who agree with his position — would be holding American interests hostage to the whims of the Taliban. Unless or until the Taliban took action according to our preferences, our troops would never leave.

We must stop tying our national interests to actors and events abroad that are following their agendas and couldn’t care less about helping us.

As should be painfully obvious to even the most casual observer, after nearly two decades of abject strategic failure in Afghanistan, the United States will never militarily force the Taliban to bend to our will, no matter how many thousands of troops we deploy or decades we continue fighting.

Even more bluntly: we don’t need to defeat the Taliban to ensure our security militarily.

As I detailed in a recent in-depth analysis published by Defense Priorities, the myth that we were attacked in September 2001 only because the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda is completely untrue. This is fundamental to understand. Once you realize the physical territory of Afghanistan was only incidental to the original attacks, we quickly recognize that the idea we have to fight until we cleanse Afghanistan of any insurgent or terrorist presence is likewise a myth.

Advocates of remaining in Afghanistan until some unstated military objective has been accomplished often claim we would incur risk by withdrawing. A rarely considered–and far more consequential–consideration is the assessment of the risk we incur by staying.

I served two combat deployment tours to Afghanistan in 2005-06 and 2010-11, regularly observing front-line conditions throughout my year during the Obama surge. I can state conclusively that it is a physical impossibility to use conventional troops to defeat a shadowy insurgent group militarily. Withdrawal is the far better option — and that’s not just my opinion.

In a poll conducted by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) last month, an overwhelming 73 percent of all veterans queried said they favored a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. CVA Executive Director Nate Anderson said it should come as no surprise that the veterans who have “borne the burden” of fighting forever wars favor a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Hopefully, Anderson said the poll results should give Trump “more confidence to follow through on promises to bring American troops home from places like Afghanistan and pursue a more restrained foreign policy that will serve American interests.” And that last phrase is the key: if wars don’t serve American interests, they should end.

I first publicly argued in early 2012 that the Afghan war was being lost and should be concluded. Eight years later, the conditions confirming our military failure have compounded many times over. There is no victory to win in Afghanistan, and by all rights, our intervention should end, and our troops should be withdrawn. Refusing to take such rational action is producing the direct opposite of what we intend: we are harming American interests.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielLDavis1.

Tags Afghanistan al-Qaeda Donald Trump Invasions of Afghanistan Lindsey Graham Politics by country Taliban War in Afghanistan

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