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Related Categories: Afghanistan | International | Anti-War
Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Yet Another Empire?
by Gil Villagrán, MSW (gvillagran [at] casa.sjsu.edu)
Friday Dec 4th, 2009 5:10 PM
President Obama announced he would send 30,000 additional American soldiers to Afghanistan in the next year, bringing our troop commitment to 100,000. A recent report places a cost of $1million per U.S. soldier per year in a battlefield. With 100,000 soldiers expected to be in Afghanistan my mid 2010, it will cost a staggering 100 billion dollars each year! Great empires have dissipated themselves into decay by military over-spending. Is this the destiny of our nation?
Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Yet Another Empire?
By Gil Villagrán, MSW

President Obama announced he would send 30,000 more American soldiers to Afghanistan in the next year, bringing our troop commitment to 100,000. It is Obama's hope, and our nation's gamble, that this increase will complete the job of killing or routing foreign al-Qaeda fighters from that nation, while at the same time convince indigenous Afghan Taliban members to lay down their weapons and peacefully rejoin civil society. The goal, as stated by the President in his address at West Point Military Academy and to the nation, is to end the tragic 30 years of war in this sad land. I hope his plan succeeds, but I fear it will not.

As a student of the history of interventions by superpowers in smaller nations, and having traveled in Afghanistan just before the 1978 Soviet Union invasion, I can report that this mountain nation is as perilous as it is beautiful. The Afghan people, at the center of Asia and with a three thousand year history of foreign invaders, has never been easily controlled-- not by Alexander-the-Great, Genghis Kahn, or the British Empire. Eventually, the invaders have often destroyed themselves in the process of seeking to control this wild land.

Afghanistan was invaded by more than 100,000 Soviet troops in 1978 to support a government they helped install, a so-called "client state." After nine years of gruesome war, 620,000 troops served, 15,000 died, 470,000 were sickened by hepatitis, typhoid, severe mental incapacity--even suicide, and 11,000 were maimed--suffering lifelong disabilities; all at a cost of $655 billion in today's U.S. dollars.

More than one million Afghans died during this period, and five million fled to Pakistan or Iran, escaping the carnage delivered by Soviet jet fighters, attack helicopters, tanks, artillery, rifles, and millions of land mines. The Soviet Union, at the time the second most powerful and well equipped army in the world, was defeated by sandal-wearing guerrilla fighters, calling themselves "Taliban--warriors of god."

The Soviet Union's humiliating defeat served as a key ingredient to its financial and moral collapse, and the defeat encouraged its own socialist republics to break apart, seeking their own destinies outside of Kremlin control.

A recent report places a cost of $1million per U.S. soldier per year in a battlefield. With 100,000 soldiers expected to be in Afghanistan my mid 2010, it will cost a staggering 100 billion dollars each year! This amount does not include rebuilding the nation's infrastructure after thirty years of war, transforming its highly profitable--though deadly--opium economy to a vegetable farming economy, nor hospitals and schools for an injured, illiterate, and deprived population. There is also the problem of a thoroughly corrupt government starting at the very top with President Karzai, a former Unocal lobbyist, whose vice-president, a former warlord, grotesquely suffocated 2,000 men in shipping containers during the U.S. invasion, and whose brother is reportedly the richest drug dealer in the nation. Bribery and thievery are endemic at every level, yet no one is prosecuted for most crimes, including rape-which evidently-is not a crime at all.

Our soldiers are the best trained, equipped, and dedicated in the world, but even they have not been able to change the corrupt nature of the Karzai government, not in 8 years, not in 8 more years. I fear that by then, our nation will be drowning in the quagmire called U.S. in Afghanistan. In the 1960s we lost the War on Poverty in the jungles of Vietnam, I fear we will lose our nation's economic recovery in the mountains of Afghanistan. I hope it will not be the graveyard of our American Empire!