VOICES: Aug. 31 withdrawal from Afghanistan rendered moot the primary questions of debate

Jim Brooks is a retired high school English teacher who writes, coaches tennis, and tutors immigrants.
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Jim Brooks is a retired high school English teacher who writes, coaches tennis, and tutors immigrants.

The past 20 years of war involving the United States and other countries, including Afghanistan, have been rough, and the relationship we have with that nation is changing as we withdraw our last troops.

I am neither a military expert nor an elected government official who makes decisions about military action. Instead, I’m just a concerned citizen who has tried to educate himself about this conflict. Here are a few simple thoughts about highly complex issues in this faraway country.

First, we must salute and thank the approximately 2 million American military personnel who have served there, many of them multiple times. The courage, dedication and patriotism they have shown is remarkable. I have read many accounts about the cost of this war to our military personnel (the dead, the wounded, the many PTSD victims), but if you want an up-close, personal narrative from the perspective of a Navy SEAL, try Lone Survivor, by Marcus Luttrell.

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In 2005, this young man and three other team members confronted approximately 140 Taliban fighters near the Afghan-Pakistan border while in search of a militant leader. Only Luttrell lived to tell their story. Severely wounded and barely alive, he was sheltered by a Pashtun village until he could be rescued.

Second, we must question the decisions of elected American officials about how they conducted the war efforts. I accept the revenge factor for 9/11 and the importance of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, who was allowed to dwell on Afghan and Pakistani soil. I get the idea of combatting global terrorism that has been aimed at the United States. I get the idea that we overthrew a regime, which provided safe haven for al Qaeda, hoping that democracy might better serve the needs of a varied population.

But we were not able to succeed in developing the Afghan economy or establishing an enduring form of government the way we did in Japan, West Germany and South Korea after World War II. Even a large, American-backed military could not withstand the Taliban’s relentless use of violence, intimidation and retribution against anyone who sided with America and our allies. An essentially feudalistic, tribal culture seems to prevail there. And let’s acknowledge that entering into a second war in the region against Iraq in 2003 drained valuable resources that were needed to give Afghanistan the best chance of embracing what we perceive as a better way of life.

Staying there in a limited capacity or leaving has been the main point of debate for the last few years. Some say that maintaining 3,000 troops along with control of our military bases while supporting Afghan troops and police would ward off the Taliban. Doing this might also keep more schools opened and continue to help girls and women in particular to make progress as full citizens.

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But those debates became moot when the U.S. government set an Aug. 31 deadline to leave the country. In addition, two weeks ago, the Taliban retook the Afghanistan within a matter of days, overpowering the more than 300,000-strong Afghan military.

Some would say that we had no right to invade, occupy and try to force another nation to live in a particular way. Can you even imagine another country’s military invading our shores, killing tens or hundreds of thousands of our citizens, reshaping our government, and directing our future life? I can’t either. What did we learn from Vietnam or from the Soviet Union’s invasion in the 1980s? Not enough.

All we can do now is complete a hasty evacuation without a lot more bloodshed than has already occurred and more carefully evaluate any future ventures of this kind.

Jim Brooks an English teacher and men’s and women’s tennis coach at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School.