Since the Clinton administration, the U.S. military has periodically bombed targets in Afghanistan, often killing several civilians to each militant slain. Nonetheless, we expected to be greeted with open arms when our troops rolled into Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks. We were not.
Now, as then, anti-American sentiment is held by many of the inhabitants of Afghanistan. This feeling is not helped by the so-called "collateral damage" that continues to mount up; collateral damage being code for unjustifiable civilian deaths. When an American bomb misses its target and obliterates an entire household in a single explosion, it is called collateral damage. To the family and friends of those killed, what difference is there between collateral damage and intentional killing?
It is precisely this type of callous murder, veiled though it is by the term "collateral damage," which provides for a never-ending cycle of militancy, which exists in the Middle East. The desire to take up arms out of vengeance is understandable, if not justifiable.
The war in Afghanistan differs from that in Iraq for three primary reasons. The first being leadership. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was run by a leader who the United States did not support–not recently at least. Alternatively, Afghanistan is run by Hamid Karzai, a man who, until recently, was largely subservient to American power. Only recently, when Karzai asked the international community to plan a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, did American leadership begin to question Karzai.
The second difference is that Afghanistan, as opposed to Iraq, has little oil. This does not mean that the American interest in Afghanistan is not selfish. Contrary, our interest in Afghanistan is based on a desire to construct a massive oil pipeline through the nation.
Such a pipeline would make the transport of oil to nearby nations, most notably India, easier. This, in turn, would take power away from both Iran and Russia, whose influence on the rapidly developing nation is largely based on their ability to supply it with oil. Of course, the U.S. would also stand to profit greatly from control of the transportation of oil.
From a strategic standpoint, the most important distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan is the greater presence and influence of both al-Qaida and the Taliban in the latter. While Iraq’s militants were relatively disorganized and untrained, Afghanistan’s operate at a much more effective level. In fact, the ability of Afghanis to fight off foreign occupiers earned the nation the title of "The Graveyard of Empires." The people of modern-day Afghanistan fought off forces ranging from ancient empires to imperial England to the Soviet Union.
In part, the Afghani victory over the Soviet Union was made possible by aid from the United States. Supplies, including weapons, were provided to militants to prevent their fall to their invaders. Today, as they were in the ‘80s, these weapons are brandished in an attempt to expel an imperialist force. This time around, we are the Soviets. We are an imperialist force attempting to take control of Afghanistan for our own ends.
I believe that is no American victory to be found in Afghanistan. We face a guerrilla force whose strength is in desperation. They are armed with public approval and American guns. Most importantly, they are armed with history. To them, America is just another empire to find demise at the hands of the Afghani people. We must pull our troops out now, lest our tanks find company in their rusted-out Soviet counterparts, buried in the sand.