Afghanistan then and now: including Barry’s Gleanings
In 1972, I was in Afghanistan. I wasn’t anyone special – just another young American traveling overland from Europe on my way to India. I was in Afghanistan before the series of coups in the 1970s, before the Russian invasion, before the civil war, before the moderate Taliban took over and then the extremists, before the U.S. military led invasion with Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
I was there to see the giant Buddhas that had been carved during the 4th and 5th centuries into a mountain face.
I was there to see the deep, cold, huge Band-e-Amir lakes in the North of Afghanistan. Notice the land – mountainous, barren.
My French/Canadian friend and I were on our way to India and met an Italian guy who never stopped talking, two quiet Dutch guys, and their Great Dane; the guys were driving across Afghanistan and Pakistan to India; they invited us to come with them. We said yes because it was the cheapest way to go – and we were young and foolish.
We’d heard there were many bandits. In Afghanistan, we saw condoms (given out by aid workers) being used as balloons, weathered men with ammunition belts slung across their shoulders, and away from the towns, we saw children begging for matches – to light the wood fires for cooking and heat. We camped at night. We had NO trouble.
Outside Kabul, we saw few people. The land harsh: in some places, the “valley” between two mountain ranges was so narrow and rocky, it was only a dry riverbed. The crops of corn and wheat were planted on the steep sides of the mountains. I couldn’t understand how they could grow anything in that land. We were in the Hindu Kush part of the Himalayan Mountains. Near Kabul, toward the middle of the mountain range, the height extends from 4,500 to 6,000 meters (14,800 to 19,700 ft). The people were extremely poor – and struggling. That was 1972.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,
“In April 1978 Afghanistan’s centrist government, headed by Pres. Mohammad Daud Khan, was overthrown by left-wing military officers led by Nur Mohammad Taraki. Power was thereafter shared by two Marxist-Leninist political groups, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party—which had earlier emerged from a single organization, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan—and had reunited in an uneasy coalition shortly before the coup. The new government, which had little popular support, forged close ties with the Soviet Union, launched ruthless purges of all domestic opposition, and began extensive land and social reforms that were bitterly resented by the devoutly Muslim and largely anticommunist population. Insurgencies arose against the government among both tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the mujahideen (Arabic mujāhidūn, “those who engage in jihad”)—were Islamic in orientation”
Where there had been almost no other people at Bamiyan or the lakes or wherever we were crossing Afghanistan, there came soldiers.
Inside Afghanistan, tribes and various groups have fought numerous military campaigns. The U.S. led forces are only the latest group.
Remind me again why the U.S. went into Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S. military casualties according to The Washington Post: From 2001-2014, 6,840 U.S. service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Of that numbered killed, 3,039 were 20-24 years old. What are we doing to our young people? Fifty-three of that number were 50-59 years old. What were they doing there? In Afghanistan, 2,354 have died; almost double that in Iraq. (http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/dates/2014/
These numbers don’t count the military members who came home but are injured in body or spirit. It doesn’t count the suffering of their families. It doesn’t count all the civilian Afghani who struggle to keep themselves and their children alive. It doesn’t count the Afghani who are fighting to get their own country back. Those published figures on casualties are only part of the suffering.
According to Brown University, Watson Institute,
“The Costs of War reports document the direct and indirect toll that war takes on civilians and their livelihoods, including the lingering effects of war death and injury on survivors and their families.
Approximately 210,000 Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the wars.
- War deaths from malnutrition, and a damaged health system and environment likely far outnumber deaths from combat [my emphases] .
Since money is a factor too, how much has the war in Afghanistan cost?
The newest U. S. Congressional Research Service says the war in Afghanistan has cost $685.6 billion; Iraq ended up costing $814.6 billion.
Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists
But this Time article, “The True Cost of the Afghanistan War May Surprise You,” by Mark Thompson, says these figures count only some of the cost. “A truer measure of the wars’ total costs pegs them at between $4 trillion and $6 trillion [my emphasis]. This fuller accounting includes “long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs,” Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated in 2013″ (Jan. 1, 2015).
Remember that our government said we had to go to war because of the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
And what is happening in Afghanistan now?
If you aren’t depressed enough by the injuries and deaths of our U.S. led military members, and the almost four times as may deaths of civilians – and the huge costs, here is something else you need to consider.
In the Jan. 1, 2015 edition of Rolling Stone magazine, writer Matthieu Aikins says, “After 13 years of war, we haven’t defeated the Taliban, but we have managed to create a nation ruled by drug lords” (p. 68). Perhaps if we could be leaving Afghanistan and its people (and Iraq too) with a hopeful future, losses could be justified.
Read this very troubling article:
Also, today here’s the latest news on Afghanistan: October 15, 2015 – “WASHINGTON — The United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead keep thousands of troops in the country through the end of his term in 2017, President Obama announced on Thursday, prolonging the American role in a war that has now stretched on for 14 years.” From The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/world/asia/obama-troop-withdrawal-afghanistan.html?_r=0
When will we learn? War is not the answer – at least not the easy answer nor the sustainable answer.
Yes, many bad people are dead – and many more good ones too.
What will happen to those who fight there and then come home? What about those who now have to stay longer than planned in Afghanistan? What will now happen to Afghanistan and its people? Except for those getting rich on the military, do you really think that war is working?
Couldn’t we be trying something else?
Hopefully, young Western backpackers will again wander from Turkey, Iran, across Afghanistan, and through Pakistan into India as we were able to do. And people in all those countries will have a peaceful, positive future. It could happen, but we – our governments – have to do something else besides supporting wars.
Renée & Barry