Paul Albaugh / Sep. 30, 2015

The Iraq Model for Afghanistan?

Taliban advances provide a warning, while "boy play" creates a dilemma.

Recent events in Afghanistan indicate that Barack Obama seriously needs to reconsider his plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country over the next 16 months. (Not that he will reconsider…) Several major cities that were once held and governed by Afghan forces have been captured by the Taliban. All is not well and it would be foolish and irresponsible for the United States to withdraw too soon. Need evidence? Just look at Iraq.

On Monday, the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan’s sixth largest city, was overrun by the Taliban — the first city taken by the Taliban since it was ousted from Kabul in 2001. Afghan forces mounted a counteroffensive with the aid of U.S. airstrikes and special forces. Afghan forces have retaken the police station, but are still facing fierce resistance from approximately 500 Taliban fighters.

“Obviously, this is a setback for the Afghan security forces,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. “But we’ve seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they face, and they’re doing the same thing in Kunduz right now.” The fact that Afghan forces are fighting to take back Kunduz is a good thing — they are doing what the U.S. military trained them to do. But that’s all the more reason why pushing to draw down forces too soon would be catastrophic. Afghan forces still need U.S. backing if they are to be successful.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), chairman of the House Armed Services committee, noted, “The fall of Kunduz to the Taliban is not unlike the fall of the Iraqi provinces to ISIL. It is a reaffirmation that precipitous withdrawal leaves key allies and territory vulnerable to the very terrorists we’ve fought so long to defeat.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is optimistic about the Afghan forces’ success, but noted a particular problem that has plagued operations for the last 14 years. During a recent news conference Ghani said, “The treacherous enemy is using civilians as a human shield.” That’s why the government of Afghanistan cannot and will not simply bombard the cities.

Indeed, no responsible government would want to harm its own citizens in the quest for destroying the enemy, which is precisely why the U.S. military has been limited to targeted airstrikes and ground forces have been operating in a training and advisory role. To make matters even more difficult, the Taliban has taken to the streets and the mosques and told residents of Kunduz that they are safe. The residents are of course terrified — and torn between whether to trust the Taliban or risk being caught in the urban gun fire that will be coming soon.

The situation is more complex though. On the one hand we have the Taliban, which is notorious for looting, killing, enslaving and terrorizing the Afghan people. On the other hand, we have a morally bankrupt culture that is causing significant problems for our troops. One recent example is the revelation that there have been instances of “Bacha Bazi” — translated as “boy play” — being perpetrated by members of the Afghan armed forces.

Yes, sadly, the same Afghan forces that Americans have trained.

So what exactly is to be expected of U.S. military personnel who witness or discover the heinous act of a man raping a boy? Is the service member to do nothing, or is he to intervene?

One particular Green Beret, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, chose to intervene — and was discharged from the Army for body slamming and beating an alleged child rapist. Martland’s team leader, Capt. Daniel Quinn, was also stripped of his command for being involved in the same incident.

We don’t know all of the facts about this incident — whether direct orders were disobeyed or whether these soldiers went too far (if there is such a thing when dealing with a child rapist). So what is U.S. policy for its service members to respond to such egregious acts?

One recent report reveals that U.S. Marines and Soldiers have been instructed not to intervene in cases of sexual abuse. Yes, you read that right.

Which brings up another point. Sharia law, which is practiced in Afghanistan, forbids sodomy and sex before marriage. Yet it’s happening and even being tolerated by the very people we have helped to put in positions of power. Is it any wonder the Afghan people can’t quite decide who to trust? The Taliban has cracked down on anyone engaging in “Bacha Bazi,” but the Taliban cracks down on everything to the point of severe oppression.

So our troops are put in harm’s way to fight the Taliban while simultaneously being asked to ignore child rape coming from those we are supposed to be fighting alongside. Quite the dilemma.

Where are Obama and the top brass in the military on this? Why are they turning a blind eye to those who have been punished for intervening on behalf of young boys? For a sitting commander in chief who frequently speaks out against human rights violations, he certainly has not backed up his words with decisive action. Nope, he is still more concerned about fighting climate change and making sure homosexuals can serve openly.

Perhaps the main question should be this: Where do we go from here? Do we continue to fight the Taliban while simultaneously propping up morally bankrupt officials? This president certainly hasn’t shown any indication that he is willing to intervene, which is why he wants to withdraw all troops before he leaves office. It’s better for him to leave it to the next guy. Thanks, Obama — said no Afghan citizen ever.

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