Seventeen years after the United States led an invasion of Afghanistan, a majority of the general public — especially military veterans — do not think the seemingly endless war has been successful. Most Americans support bringing US troops home.
According to a new poll conducted by YouGov and released this week, about 57 percent of people living in the United States said they would support a move by the president to remove all troops from Afghanistan. Among military veterans, support for ending the war was even stronger: 69 percent were in favor of bringing the troops home. About 63 percent of the general public and 64 percent of veterans said some or all of the US troops stationed in Afghanistan should return within the next five years.
A majority (53 percent) of those surveyed — including 60 percent of veterans — said the US government does not have a clear military objective in Afghanistan.
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After criticizing foreign wars on the campaign trail, President Trump announced a vague strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan last year. However, he also lifted restrictions on wartime spending and gave military commanders on the ground wider latitude to launch attacks without White House permission. Earlier this year, Trump signed a defense spending bill authorizing $69 billion for foreign conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan, the highest price tag since 2014.
The poll was commissioned by the conservative-leaning news site RealClearPolitics and the Charles Koch Institute, a right-libertarian think tank funded by billionaire Charles Koch. Progressives and the anti-war left have opposed the war from the beginning, and growing concern among fiscal conservatives is a clear sign that opposition to the war in Afghanistan crosses ideological and party lines.
“Looking back at the many years of fighting in our longest war, at the successes and setbacks, and the death or wounding of thousands of Americans, allied servicemen and women, and our Afghan friends, it’s clear that continuing on the current course is not in our national interest,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona and a veteran of the war in Iraq, in a statement this week. “American troops should come home.”
In the YouGov poll, about two-thirds of respondents and a striking 73 percent of veterans do not think the war has been a success for the US, despite the high-profile killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Forty percent of veterans now say the war effort has been unsuccessful, while 33 percent characterized the war as neither successful nor unsuccessful, according to the poll. Less than one in four veterans said the war has been a success, along with about 21 percent of the public.
Sunday was the 17-year anniversary of the US and British-led invasion of Afghanistan aimed at toppling the Taliban and rooting out al-Qaeda militants, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban marked the occasion with attacks on US-backed security forces, and dozens were killed as violence erupted across the country over the weekend.
A Taliban assault on Monday in northern Jawzjan province left 12 security members of the Afghan security forces dead and 10 others wounded, according to reports. The Taliban released a statement the same day calling upcoming elections in Afghanistan “bogus” due to the continued US occupation of the country and called on militants to disrupt the process with attacks.
After 17 years of war, the Taliban still claims to control about half the territory in the country. By the most recent US estimates, the US-backed government controls only 56 percent of Afghanistan’s districts, and about 30 percent remain contested. Nearly 14 percent of districts are under control of insurgents, a 1 percent increase from mid-2017.
Meanwhile, the cost of the war continues to mount. More than 104,000 people have lost their lives due to the war in Afghanistan, including more than 31,000 civilians and 2,351 US servicemen and women. Thousands more US military members have returned home with injuries and mental health problems.
In a commentary preceding the 17th anniversary of the war, Mary Hladky of the grassroots group Military Families Speak Out noted that much of that money goes to military contractors. US taxpayers have spent an estimated $5.6 trillion on the “war on terror” since the Bush administration launched the worldwide war in 2001 — including about $45 billion on the war in Afghanistan each year.
“Wars since 9/11 have little to do with protecting Americans but are all about the immensely profitable business of war,” Hladky, whose son served in Afghanistan, wrote. “We are told that our massive war spending is necessary to support the troops. But, in fact, it supports defense contractors making record profits.”
From 2002 to 2017, the US government spent about $4.7 billion on “stabilization efforts and programs” in Afghanistan, according to the most recent quarterly report to Congress from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Despite this massive investment, the report concedes that Afghanistan is “clearly not yet stable;” and it remains unclear how the country can be stabilized after enduring violent invasions and occupations by foreign governments for decades.
SIGAR also told lawmakers in July that at least $15.5 billion in taxpayer funding has been wasted on faulty programs, failed efforts and fraud and abuse among contractors in Afghanistan.
Looking back at 9/11 and early days of the war, the public is divided and unsure about whether invading Afghanistan was a good idea in the first place. Thirty-nine percent now say that sending troops to Afghanistan was a “mistake,” while 30 percent say it was the correct choice and 31 percent are not sure. A slim majority of veterans (54 percent) say President Bush made the right choice, but 31 percent say it was a mistake and 15 percent are unsure.
“When will we stand up to change the direction of our country?” Hladky asked.
Now, with an overwhelming majority of veterans questioning US wars, maybe the time has come.