Afghanistan: Why Are We There?

Matthew Hoh was a 36-year-old foreign service officer serving in Afghanistan until he resigned his post last week. Mr Hoh is a former Marine Corps captain who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He received citations for uncommon bravery. He seems to be a credible voice in the Afghanistan discussion.

I found this call-in interview session with Mr Hoh to be an informative one and considered Hoh's thoughts about our efforts in Afghanistan to be insightful. Here are a few excerpts of his responses to questions:
  • I resigned because I reached a point in my conscience where I could not support the loss of American lives for a goal I don't believe serves strategic US interests. If I agreed with this policy, I would have remained working in Afghanistan at the provincial level.
  • I was hired as a limited non-career foreign service officer. I was sworn into the foreign service as as foreign service officer for at temporary period of time. The US government "deputizes" people in such manner to make up for shortfalls in manning or to bring in people with specialized experience.
  • Upon arriving in Afghanistan and serving in both the East and the South (and particularly speaking with local Afghans), I found that the majority of those who were fighting us and the Afghan central government were fighting us because they felt occupied.
  • I feel that our two goals in that region should be the defeat of al-Qaeda and the stabilization of Pakistan ... If anything, evidence suggests our presence in Afghanistan has destabilized Pakistan.
  • The people we are fighting, for the most part, in Afghanistan are fighting us because they do not want to be occupied by either a foreign army or a central government force. Simply put, al-Qaeda does not exist in Afghanistan and 60,000 troops with the hope of stabilizing the Afghan central government which may or may not succeed in 5-10 years time will not defeat al-Qaeda.
I find the views of Mr Hoh to be compelling ones. I admire his resolve and his courage of convictions. I hope he will be heard by those who influence policy in Afghanistan.

I think that the questions we need to ask in Afghanistan are the whys and not the whats or the hows. I think that if we focus on how to win and what we need to do to succeed we will miss asking the question of why are we there. I am hoping that our president is asking the right questions.


  1. General McChrystal was addressing "how" when he asked for more troops. His request shouldn't impact President Obama when he answers whether we should stay in Afghanistan.
    I think the majority of Americans want the US to pull out but their reason(s) for doing so aren't as well informed as the officer who just resigned. I suspect that most Americans want to pull out because they don't think that we can win this "war" or its not worth the cost. Those who think we should stay may only be interested avoiding a military defeat.

    I supported our action in Afghanistan because I thought we should and could destroy bin Laden. I also thought the Afghans deserved to be free of the Taliban. Bin Laden has escaped Afghanistan and our forces. We gave up the chase to "free" Iraq. As for freeing the Afghans of the Taliban, I'm sure that I didn't understand the politics of Afghanistan.

    President Obama will take a lot of heat whether we stay or not. I don't think that impacts his decision, so I don't know why he thinks we should stay.

  2. Don't even get me started on this topic....

    Ok I will say one thing: 70% of the USA's heroin comes from Afghanistan. There is no "WAR ON DRUGS" because our govt. doesn't see to care the we are losing millions of young people to addiction, not just to death but to jail or a life of uselessness.

  3. Thanks for sharing that Barbara. It does seem that our government has abandoned the war of drugs. Like you I have been impacted by teen usage of drugs. What do you think we should be doing with countries like Afghanistan? Any ideas you have about waging the war on drugs? Gotta admit I don't have any ideas.

  4. Unfortunately for the US the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were essentially impossible to win from the beginning because of the administration's views on military strategy and the amount of resources and the resolve it would take to accomplish a victory. I believe that when we first went into Iraq, we did so with virtually no understanding of the situation and the resolve it would take to win.

    As far as the war on drugs, it can be won only on our home soil. If Americans simply choose to not use drugs, the "war" is over. If we Americans do not have the resolve to refrain from drugs, the war is not winnable.

  5. Well, one person's opinion. And I'll respect that, but there are people who were or are there saying opposite things.

    It is complex. I guess my feeling is either we do what we need to do to complete the mission successfully or we pull out.

    I personally think pulling out now without a stable government we'll see Afghanistan devolve back to a pre-9/11 state. That would dishonor those who have given their lives there already.

  6. What is the end result that would honor "those who have given their lives there already" Shane? And how many more lives would have to be given to achieve that result? Perhaps in a quest to honor the fallen we dishonor those who are living and fighting?

  7. In my opinion (which is all I am stating) is that the US needs to complete this mission (war in Afghanistan) successfully and contribute enough resources in our efforts to bring stability to the country. I do not want to confuse stability with a western style democracy. I think we now owe the people of Afghanistan safety, security, a stable government and stable economy so the country can live in peace.

    If the US pulls our of Iraq and Afghanistan without being able to implement peace, security, etc., then the rest of the world will not be able to trust us in any future endeavor. We need to complete what we start but think in serious detail and have a complete plan before starting anything - especially a war.

  8. In a sense I agree with you John.. peace and security are great goals.. but I think that it would take too much American money and lives to achieve peace in these areas that have been fighting tribal wars for many many years.

    Generally speaking I think that Americans are not willing to sacrifice any more for these countries - just ask them if they would support a national draft to support wars in these countries.

  9. I agree that 3rd world countries will continue to supply drugs to the US as long as there is a demand for them or until the poor in those countries have an alternative way to make money. Ten percent of the Afghan population is involved in growing poppy which represents one-third of their GNP. Until Afghans have an equal alternative to the poppy they will continue as they are today.

    We should not continue to fight a war only to honor those that have died already by condemning more soldiers to death or disability.


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