Editor's Note: President Obama announced Wednesday his plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 troops by next summer. But for some Afghan Americans, such a quick military withdrawal may not be good for Afghanistan.
FREMONT, Calif. -- Many Afghan Americans in this Bay Area city, home to the largest community of Afghans in the western world, say they do not support the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Interviews with community leaders and activists reveal that many Afghan Americans fear troop reductions will result in civil war and unchecked Taliban control.
While the American public may be growing tired of the 10-year-old war, over at the De Afghanan Kabob House in Fremont, owner Aziz Omar said he believes the mission is far from over. Afghanistan has “been through hell for the past three decades,” he said. “So hopefully it gets better, but we need to be there in order to keep those fanatics out of the picture.” He was referring to the Taliban.
Born during the Soviet invasion, Omar has direct experience with war in his home country. But he said the Taliban are far worse than Soviets. “They don’t believe in peace and they don’t believe in human rights so we need to crush the Taliban whatever it takes.”
A professor at Cal State University, East Bay, and the host of a satellite TV show, Farid Younos is generally far out of the mainstream. But on the subject of troop withdrawal, he said he reluctantly agrees with other Afghan Americans who support a continued American presence.
“Americans are a total failure in Afghanistan militarily, economically, socially,” he said. However, he said that he recently came to the conclusion that a withdrawal would now be unwise. “Without the presence of a foreign power the government will fall in the hands of the Taliban,” he said.
Mizgon Zahir-Darby, executive director of the Afghan Coalition in Fremont, offered a similar perspective. “The biggest fear of the Afghan community is that it will return back to a pre-9/11 state,” she said. However, she added that such a view is tempered by her understanding of the costs of the war. “I know people who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. We want them back.”
Imam Safi Yullah, who works at the Mosque of the Muhajireen, said he generally avoids talking about politics. A religious man, he said he believes that “Islam wanted peace not only in Islamic countries but all over the world.” Still, he said, the war is ongoing in many provinces and he wonders “how they are going to take care of all of those if the American troops withdraw from that area.”
Obama’s speech comes at a time when American support for the war is waning. In recent surveys, the majority of Americans no longer believe the war is worth fighting. Many conservative politicians are finding it increasingly hard to reconcile hawkish foreign policy objectives with calls for deficit reductions. Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have all publically called for a quick exit.
Opposition to the war extends to the military ranks. Jake Diliberto is a marine corporal who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He still talks like a marine; he spelled his name using the military phonetic alphabet — Delta, India, etc. But now he works with a group called Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan.
In an interview before Obama’s speech, Diliberto said that however many brigades Obama plans to bring home, it won’t be enough. Upon returning home, he said, “Everyday I had to live with the question: Was that worth it? And it was unequivocally no.” He said he believes this opinion to be widespread—among the American public, soldiers, government officials and Afghans, at home and abroad.
“I sat with hundreds of mullahs and leaders of mosques,” he said. “I have not met one person in Afghanistan who thinks the war is a good thing except for perhaps General Patraeus.”
But while some Afghan Americans may agree with his characterization of the conduct of the war, many do not agree with his prescription for the future.
Afghan Americans must weigh a desire to bring American troops home with concern for friends and family abroad.
For Zahir-Darby, this is a delicate balance. “We can’t afford it anymore,” she acknowledged, but wondered how we could possibly leave things as they are. “We’re training a whole bunch of Afghans to be police, but now we’re leaving with guns in their hands—really?”
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