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Time to Get Out of Afghanistan

Michael D. Intriligator is a professor of economics, political science and public policy at UCLA. Nake M. Kamrany is a senior lecturer of economics and director of the Program in Law and Economics, Department of Economics, at the University of Southern California. This piece, which originally ran in the Huffington Post on Nov. 23, is a synopsis of the authors' presentation to the Global Security Seminar at UCLA.

By Michael D. Intriligator and Nake M. Kamrany

The U.S. occupation of Afghanistan has entered its 10th year, the longest U.S. war in history, with no victory or defeat in sight. The initial objective of capturing Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan is no longer valid as he and his al Qaeda followers fled to Pakistan nearly a decade ago. In the meantime we do not have clear objectives in Afghanistan. Our attempts at creating security, eliminating poppy production, establishing civil governance, and promoting economic development and democratization have largely failed. The cost of this war, estimated at more than $52 billion, given our own recession, is becoming prohibitive and exceeds the GDP of the country. Currently, we have deployed over 100, 000 soldiers there at a cost of $1 million per soldier per year. Our casualties are mounting by the day while our real enemies, al Qaeda, are in Pakistan. One must ask why are we there?

We are caught in a vicious circle in this war as the perpetrators of this war — Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar, Haqqni, and former ISI operators — are in Pakistan sending roadside bombs and suicide youth from Pakistan to inflict damage on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We, in turn, retaliate and punish the Pashtun tribes in the south, east, and southwest by bombing their villages, burning their crops and killing their animals and population. This feeds right into the hands of al Qaeda who inflame hatred against the U.S. in Pakistan and the Middle East at large. If this vicious cycle is not broken, we could be caught in this quagmire for a long time and President Obama's announced troop withdrawal date of July, 2011, has already been moved to 2014.

Our casualties and loss of troops and expenditures of wealth in Afghanistan do not contribute whatsoever to our national security as the Afghans hold no ill will towards the United States and there is no possibility that they will ever allow al Qaeda to return to Afghanistan after what the Afghans experienced in the last ten years. Besides, Afghans are traditional Muslims and do not subscribe to fanaticism or international intrigue. The Afghans are grateful and still consider the Americans friends who helped their resistance against the Soviet Union occupation during 1979-1989.

What should we do? We believe that the best alternative is to declare victory and pull our troops out of Afghanistan now — not next year or thereafter. We may keep a military presence and divert some of the resources to help economic development. This will end the war and the Afghans will be able to sort out and define their own system as other countries have done when our troops departed. There may be a short civil war but it will dissipate quickly as weary Afghans are exhausted of the more than 30 years of war that they have suffered.

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