President Obama is considering how fast to draw down the remaining U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, and one option on the table is to get to zero fairly quickly. The zero option may be just a trial balloon aimed at drumming up political support for a continued military presence. Or perhaps it is intended to shock Afghanistan’s mercurial president, Hamid Karzai, into some semblance of rationality about how he deals with Washington. But there are reasons for going sooner rather than later, and this blog is about one reason that you probably haven’t heard.
Most people recognize that after a dozen years of war, the U.S. and its allies have succeeded in wiping out the Al Qaeda terrorist cells that launched the 9-11 attacks on America. Other extremist cells have popped up in places like Mali and Yemen that call themselves Al Qaeda, but they are different players than the zealots who rallied around Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. As the latter group has been gradually worn down, the U.S. has found itself increasingly embroiled in a civil war pitting the fundamentalist Taliban, an indigenous Afghan movement, against the more liberal but thoroughly corrupt government of Hamid Karzai.
Karzai’s Afghanistan is no prize. Its main cash crop is illicit opiates. Tribal warlords hold sway over much of the countryside. Women are routinely denied education, and frequently abused. No doubt about it, Osama bin Laden knew what he was doing when he chose this godforsaken land as Al Qaeda’s sanctuary, because there are few places where Americans would be less comfortable working with the locals. You’ve undoubtedly heard about the poppies and the corruption, but what you probably haven’t heard is that our Afghan allies are presiding over a country that Joel Brinkley has called “the pedophilia capital of Asia.”
Brinkley used that phrase in an essay he penned for the San Francisco Chronicle on August 29, 2010, alerting readers to the findings of a State Department report on human rights in Afghanistan. The report contained a section on children stating that sexual abuse is “pervasive” in Afghanistan, and that perpetrators are typically not arrested because molestation of young boys is a “culturally sanctioned form of male rape.” Brinkley cited research indicating that up to half of the Pashtun men in major southern cities such as Kandahar may take underage boys as lovers, and said it is a sign of status that they boast about publicly.
I won’t go further into the sordid details, but you can get more in a commentary Robert Long posted at www.theamericanconservative.com on July 10th. The post is entitled “Routine Child Rape by Afghan Police,” and it concludes with a poignant quote from a U.S. military trainer about how dispiriting it is to work with local security forces populated by known child molesters. It appears that having been denied access to women because of their religious beliefs, millions of Pashtun men have turned to boys as the preferred outlet for their sexual urges. You may recall that a rallying point in the formation of the Taliban occurred when Mullah Omar’s followers rescued a young boy that two Afghan warlords were trying to sodomize.
The moral of this story is not that we need to spend more time trying to reform the Afghans. The moral is that we need to arm them with the means to defend themselves and then get out. Afghan culture is so fundamentally at odds with the foundational values of American society that staying there makes us complicit in outrages we would never tolerate in other countries with which we have security ties. We must continue monitoring the region for any signs of an Al Qaeda resurgence, and we must complete the job of training and equipping Afghan security forces so they have some chance of preserving their fragile democracy. But then we must be gone, before this corrupted culture drags us down.
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