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US should rethink Afghanistan troop escalation

Last week, conservative columnist George Will caused quite a stir within the ranks of the Washington punditocracy with his surprising call to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Fellow conservatives were quick to perish the thought of what they consider retreat in the face of the enemy. Even former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, liberal icon and vehement critic of the Iraq war, has said he supports sending more troops and resources to Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama seems resolved to escalate, rather than wind down, America’s military operations in the mountainous powder keg, announcing last spring his intentions to increase troop levels significantly by the end of the year in hopes of stabilizing the war-torn country. Further troop requests are expected within the next few weeks on the heels of the two deadliest months for U.S. forces of the eight-year campaign to root out al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Yet, as we mark the somber anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, perhaps we should take some time to weigh the merits of continuing to commit troops and tax dollars to what is starting to look more and more like an interminable quagmire.

The conventional wisdom for increasing troop levels centers around the belief that Afghanistan’s nascent democratic government could not stand on its own to face the menacing threat of a resurgent Taliban. But for what kind of government are we asking our valiant soldiers to sacrifice?

President Hamid Karzai, derisively dubbed the “Mayor of Kabul” due to his government’s inability to control the tribal territories outside of Afghanistan’s capital city, has not exactly shown himself to be a shinning exemplar of democratic principals or human rights.

Karzai’s government recently passed a law that essentially legalizes rape. The statute sanctions Afghan men to deny their wives food if they refuse to copulate at least once every four days. Women are also barred from leaving the house unless they receive permission from their husbands.

There is also a provision that grants immunity from criminal prosecution to rapists, so long as they pay a fine to the injured party.

The legislation prompted protest from the international community and was initially halted as Karzai promised to review and amend the draconian and woefully loathsome law.

In the weeks before Afghanistan’s national election, however, the bill was surreptitiously enacted without the approval of parliament, as Karzai sought to shore up support from hardline religious fundamentalists.

Waning in popularity, with polls showing his chances of winning re-election ranging from dubious to a snowball’s chance in Afghanistan, a desperate Karzai appears to have taken a page from Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“[This] is state-engineered fraud,” said Karzai’s main opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. It certainly looks that way.

Karzai has taken 100 percent of the vote in many polling locations, some of which were thought to be opposition strongholds. In Karzai’s hometown, he received over 350,000 votes even though there is only 25,000 voters. Even more galling is the revelation that some 800 “fictitious polling sites,” that existed only in the minds of those rigging the election, scored big gains for Karzai.

Western elections observers estimate that as much as 15 percent of the polling locations across the country weren’t opened on election day, yet mysteriously these sites tallied thousands of votes for Karzai.

As of this writing, we have lost 820 heroes to the effort in Afghanistan. Nearly 10 percent of those casualties have come in the last two months.

How many more lives are we willing to sacrifice in Afghanistan to prop up a corrupt, incompetent, impotent and anachronistic government? Especially when the crooks in Kabul have thus far shown little interest in cultivating democratic behavior or championing equality and human rights.

Will we ever learn from the mistakes of the past? The Soviet Union was not broken and communism did not fall at the hands of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars,” it succumbed to the wounds it received fighting a protracted guerrilla war in the treacherous Afghan mountains.

The same grievous injuries could befall the U.S. if we do not reevaluate our misbegotten plans for escalation.

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