Bring troops home from Afghanistan

The U.S. Senate is poised to vote before Memorial Day on funds to continue the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through Sept. 30. The House of Representatives has already approved a supplemental appropriation, but we can still urge our senators to focus spending on ending both wars as soon as possible.

Two recent developments cast the U.S. role in Afghanistan in an ominous light:

On May 4, U.S. air strikes killed up to 140 civilians in western Farah province; Afghan officials said the majority were children.

On May 11, the Obama administration appointed Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal as U.S. commander there.

The civilian deaths – though the highest reported to date from U.S. and NATO air strikes – were just the latest. The United Nations says such attacks killed over 2,000 Afghan civilians last year. Drone attacks into western Pakistan are killing civilians there, too.

President Obama has repeatedly said diplomacy and civilian aid must play major roles in Afghanistan, and there can be no solely military solution. But the increase in troops, and the appointment of McChrystal, whose experience is in targeted raids and air strikes against insurgent leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, move in the opposite direction.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) pointed to a different way when during the House debate on the supplemental appropriation, he introduced H.R. 2404. The House resolution, with 73 co-sponsors including several Republicans, calls on the administration by the end of this year to project a strategy for U.S. military forces to leave Afghanistan.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ just-released report urges reversing the present spending ratio so 80 percent of funds would help develop health care, education, transportation and other civilian needs. The CPC also calls for an immediate end to U.S. air strikes and drone attacks, along with increased dialogue with the country’s ethnic and tribal leaders.

Some 685 U.S. troops and 465 soldiers from other countries have died so far in Afghanistan, and an estimated 20,000 Afghans have died as a result of the U.S. invasion. The U.S. has already spent over $170 billion on the Afghan war to date; tens of billions more are included in the supplemental appropriation, and analysts say total costs could ultimately exceed the recent bailout of Wall St.

Action now can help stem this rising toll on people and resources by Memorial Day next year.