Locals debate pullout from Afghanistan
Following his announcement that all U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by Sept. 11, 2021, President Joe Biden has received both praise and criticism from lawmakers, veterans and regular American citizens.
During his press conference Wednesday, President Biden defended his decision, saying, “I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as leverage. We gave that argument a decade. It never proved effective, not (when) we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and not now that we’re down to a few thousand.”
However, Republican (and some Democratic) lawmakers warn that leaving too early or withdrawing without proper conditions could end poorly, especially if the security situation deteriorates. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, referred to the withdrawal as “abandoning our partners and retreating in the face of the Taliban,” according to national media reports.
The Democrats in Congress who opposed the president’s decision expressed concern with human and civil rights for Afghans, especially after progress made as a result of the American presence. Others came to the conclusion that there was no easy answer, and President Biden’s hands were somewhat tied because the Taliban could have potentially never had the intention to cooperate.
Jerry Farmer, the vice president of the Santa Barbara Veterans Foundation, warned of a bad ending to the withdrawal for Afghans.
“It’s not going to be good when we pull out (for) the minorities (and) the women in that country,” he told the News-Press. “Any kind of democratic progress they made, I’ve got a feeling it’s going to end, and it’s going to end very badly … It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to really bring them any help.”
Mr. Farmer said he supports getting U.S. troops out of there, but he hopes the president will deal with Afghanistan “from a long distance like Israel does with its enemies” and “keep it quiet.”
“I think it would be best for us to keep our mouths shut. If the Taliban or ISIS or any other group starts to get a foothold in there, I think we should go in and take care of it, but not telegraph our moves,” he said.
Under the deal the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in 2020, U.S. troops wouldn’t be withdrawn until insurgents met commitments such as breaking from al-Qaeda and reducing violence in the country, but U.S. military officials say the Taliban has yet to uphold those commitments.
“They (the Taliban) are basically saying, ‘We’ve already made the deal with Trump. Anything after May 1 is open for us to attack,’ which is nasty,” Mr. Farmer said.
Retired Lt. John Blankenship, founder of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, was stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, and then in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, where he flew T-34s, T-28s, S-2s and more. He said that, speaking as a Vietnam vet, “Some problems are unsolvable.”
“I feel like we went there with the greatest intentions to Afghanistan, and we gave it the best we could, but it’s time to bring them home,” he told the News-Press. “I think it’ll be pretty much a mess before too long. It’s always been that way since the Russians went in, and even before that … We were not able to really make a lot of headway losing the kids we did and the amount of money, which is not as valuable as the kids, but I still don’t think another 20 (years) is going to make a whole lot of difference.”
The veteran said America went to Vietnam with “the greatest intentions” as well, but added that the United States tends to go in with great intentions without a solid plan to exit.
“We ought to have a strategy of how we’re getting out once we go in,” Mr. Blankenship said. “It seems like part of what we do … There’s ones you win like the second World War, but from then on, we haven’t really had a major victory. Korea saw a draw, people felt like we lost in Vietnam, and now we go and spend time (in Afghanistan) and we don’t seem to solve the problem.
“It’s a whole different way of life there. Democracy doesn’t really work for them, and I don’t know when that’ll ever change in a place like Afghanistan.”
Martin Shaffer is a disabled Vietnam veteran and has been a member of the Central Coast Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 982, in Guadalupe for more than a decade. He offered his comments on behalf of himself and not the VVA, saying: “Get them the hell home.”
“It’s not going to end the way they think it’s going to end because of the type of war that it is,” Mr. Shaffer told the News-Press. “It’s not about land or anything. It’s religion.”
The veteran said he was skeptical about meeting the exit date of Sept. 11.
“I think it’s about time somebody made a decision and hopefully it will all go through the higher ups and get done,” he said. “I don’t know if it’ll happen by the date, but I want to be hopeful and believe that we have somebody that is going to see it through instead of just turn a blind eye.”
Overall though, Mr. Shaffer’s message was simple: “Get them kids home. I’m sure they’ll have somewhere else to send them.”
President Biden said that over the next few months, officials will determine “what a continued U.S. diplomatic presence in Afghanistan will look like, including how we will ensure the security of our diplomats,” according to reporting by the Military Times.
While Mr. Farmer said he’s not a veteran himself but supports his veteran family and friends, he offered a reminder: “All these decisions that are made about war and policy are made by politicians — not our servicemen and women. They’re there to do a job. They don’t make policy; they follow orders.
“So when people say look at what the veterans have done — no, no, no. Look at your elected officials. Those are the people that put those people where they’re at … And especially with people like us in Santa Barbara … If it wasn’t for our active-duty service men and women past, present and future, we’d have none of this.”