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Debate: As Trump Prolongs War in Afghanistan, Should U.S. Pull Out Troops Immediately?

StoryAugust 23, 2017
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In a prime-time address on Monday, President Trump vowed to step up the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan which began nearly 16 years ago, extending the longest war in U.S. history. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Trump may have found a reason to prolong the nearly 16-year war: Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits, which could be worth nearly a trillion dollars. Shortly after the Times piece came out, we spoke with Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. We also spoke with Jodi Vittori, senior policy adviser for Global Witness on Afghanistan policy. Vittori spent 20 years in the U.S. military, where she served in several countries, including Afghanistan. She has received numerous military awards, including two Bronze Stars.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In a prime-time address Monday, President Trump vowed to step up the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan which began nearly 16 years ago, extending the longest war in U.S. history.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan, because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, The New York Times reported President Trump may have found a reason to prolong the nearly 16-year war: Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits, which could be worth nearly a trillion dollars. The Times goes on to say, quote, "Stephen [A.] Feinberg, a billionaire financier who is informally advising Mr. Trump on Afghanistan, is also looking into ways to exploit the country’s minerals, according to a person who has briefed him. Mr. Feinberg owns a large military contracting firm, DynCorp International, which could play a role in guarding mines—a major concern, given that some of Afghanistan’s richest deposits are in areas controlled by the Taliban." Well, The New York Times reports Trump discussed Afghanistan’s vast deposits of metals and rare earth metals with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and is reportedly considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials.

Shortly after the Times piece came out, I spoke with Kathy Kelly, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. And Jodi Vittori, senior policy adviser for Global Witness on Afghanistan policy. Jodi spent 20 years in the U.S. military, where she served in several countries, including Afghanistan, has received numerous military awards, including two Bronze Stars. I started by asking Jodi Vittori whether if she thinks U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan.

JODI VITTORI: At this time, I don’t think that’s probably a good idea. Global Witness does not take a position on U.S. troops, I should note, nor would it ever take a position on U.S. troops.

But one of the issues that everyone does face is that pretty much everyone acknowledges that if the United States pulls out, the Ghani administration will fall. And if you play kind of the mental mind game of what does that look like when his administration is gone, and you run through the different alternatives of what comes next, all of them are pretty frightening, whether it be the Taliban who would take over, which is not a high likelihood, but they did manage to do it before, and that was obviously a terrible possibility we would like not to see happen again, or whether it’s some sort of strongman warlord who has been heavily invested in the corruption and conflict already in the country, is a great—any of these major warlords would be a—someone who’s pushed the country into this situation already, taking over, or whether the country just divides up into a whole bunch of warring fiefdoms, each supported by their various international power, whether that be Russia, Pakistan, Iran, China or whatever. All of those are deeply troubling. So it’s one of those situations where there’s really not a good way forward. There’s just some really less bad—less—there are some really worse ways to go forward. And I think anything that allows the Taliban—the Ghani government to collapse is highly problematic.

Instead, we need to look at how do we build a government that’s transparent and accountable to its citizens, that protects human rights, that protects the democracy that’s supposed to be enshrined in their constitution, and starts to build a resilient society that can stand on its own in the long term.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, do you think U.S. troops should leave?

KATHY KELLY: Yes, I do. I think that, in many ways, the governance of Afghanistan has already collapsed. The government of Afghanistan isn’t able to provide for people protection. They’re not able to provide jobs. They’re not able to provide environmental security. The groundwater in Kabul right now is said to be at risk of high contamination.

The United States is one among many warlords right now. It’s certainly the heaviest-armed and the warlord with the most access to funding. But it’s not the case that the United States has been shoring up some kind of governance that’s been advantageous to people in Afghanistan. If it were, I think the United States wouldn’t be so interested in mineral wealth as interested in restoring the agricultural infrastructure of Afghanistan. It’s a country that needs to be able to feed its people, not be sending them down into the dungeons of mines to work as serfs. And to restore that agricultural infrastructure would require reseeding the orchards, cleaning out the irrigation systems, replenishing the flocks. And those are things that could be done. It would require weaning people off of the opium trade. But the Taliban showed that that was possible, when they first came into power after 2001.

So, I believe that the United States could try to seek the assistance of somebody like Alfred McCoy, who has done great research with a large team of people at the University of Wisconsin in the past regarding other situations where the United States collaborated with drug runners and warlords. And he has also already done considerable investigation in Afghanistan. They know how—I mean, they’ve got the skills and the abilities to help people in Afghanistan change their infrastructure so that it emphasizes agriculture and production of food and creation of clean water systems.

AMY GOODMAN: Jodi, I wanted to read from a recent Guardian piece. "The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.

"The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on Monday."

And during the month of June, the U.S. carried out 389 airstrikes, the highest monthly total in five years. Two weeks ago, the U.N. said the number of civilian deaths in the Afghan War has reached a record high. What about this? Can this possibly increase security for the people of Afghanistan or any sense that the U.S. is there to help the civilian population?

JODI VITTORI: Well, I think—and, again, Global Witness doesn’t take a position itself on U.S. troops in Afghanistan or not. But there—I think this sort of discussion we’re having today about minerals and so forth really points to the fact that the United States has not put the emphasis on governance since really it came into Afghanistan itself. It’s always taken a strategy called security first, which is this idea that we’ll get enough security, and then we’ll deal with governance later. But, of course, as we know in these situations, it’s the lack of security, it’s the role of warlords and corrupt officials and money laundering and the opiates in the country and other criminal activity that is fostering that very insecurity. If you’re running merely a [security] first program, you’re never going to get to a place where you get to governance. You’ve got to really run governance and security at the same time. And this is where the United States has really lacked.

I would really like to see this current administration, if it’s really serious about what to do with Afghanistan, really get together a diverse group of experts on Afghanistan, the Afghan citizens themselves, the Afghan government together, to really talk about how do we do a governance program in parallel with the security program, and what needs to improve on security, as well, at the same time. I don’t think we’ve really had that discussion yet of how do we do both at the same time. We’ve treated governance as kind of an afterthought and something we throw a little bit of money and some programs at. But really making that the focus, not only governance capacity building, which is itself important, but also governance as far as how do we incentivize those reformers within the government, and how do we marginalize or disincentivize those who have a strong incentive to continue the war, to continue the corruption, who right now have very, very powerful places both within and outside of the government. We really haven’t had that discussion yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Kelly, I want to give you the last word, as you sit in Minneapolis at this peace conference. What people there are saying as a path to move forward, and where you feel the peace movement is today in the United States? There’s a lot said about the Trump administration and where it’s going, but what about this movement of resistance? How strong do you feel it is?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I think we have something to learn from what’s happening in the United Kingdom right now, where Jeremy Corbyn is starting to galvanize people. And his long history as a clear antiwar activist and somebody who challenged the military has surprised people in the United Kingdom, but gained a great deal of support. I hope that people who have said, "Oh, well, you can’t bring antiwar discussions into campaigning efforts or into the movements to try to work on our environment or to improve the terrible disparities in terms of economic inequities in our country"—I think that these discussions should be coming together, something like what Jodi has just suggested should be happening with regard to people who are focused on Afghanistan. But I think that the United States should never assume the posture that we somehow are the responsible people to effectively lead another country. Afghanistan is not our country.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kathy Kelly, twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare, and Jodi Vittori, senior policy adviser for Global Witness on Afghanistan policy. She spent 20 years in the U.S. military, served in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, has received numerous military awards, including two Bronze Stars.

To see Part 1 of our conversation—actually, our whole extended conversation with these two women, you can go to democracynow.org.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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