For the massive number of students and citizens who consider themselves members of the peace movement, the time to act is now.
Since 2001, nearly 900 U.S. service men and women have lost their lives in the U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan – 230 this year alone. The United Nations has reported that in just the first six months of 2009, 818 Afghan civilians have been killed, a 24 percent increase over the same period in 2008. This sets 2009 on course to be the deadliest year in the history of the conflict, for both U.S. military personnel and Afghan civilians.
Despite such figures, General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has asked the Obama administration for 40,000 additional U.S. troops to add to the 68,000 already stationed in the country. This would more than double the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, and nearly match current troop levels in Iraq.
Obama’s response to McChrystal’s request will likely come within the next week, and together we must rise in opposition to a vocal and powerful group pushing our president toward a strategy of escalation that is further destabilizing the region, endangering our national security interests, and getting our service members killed at alarming rates.
The peace movement is urgently calling upon all its members to voice their concerns with their contacts in power, and such actions need to be taken today. For Davis and Yolo County residents, House Representative Mike Thompson is the person to get in touch with. Though Rep. Thompson has voted consistently against the war effort in Iraq, he has been relatively silent with his opinions regarding Afghanistan and the troop increases that have already taken place this year. Send a message to him today, saying that escalation is not the answer, and that we demand he take strong, substantive action against it.
In particular, we must send a firm message to Senator Diane Feinstein. The New York Times reported last Wednesday that Feinstein is among a group of Democrats “more supportive” of McChrystal’s requests. Write, call, or go directly to her office in San Francisco and express to her that an increase in troop levels cannot occur and will not be tolerated by her constituency.
At the same time, we must renew our efforts to end the occupation and pursue more tactically and morally sound approaches to counter terrorism. The New York Times reported last Wednesday that senior officials in the White House have concluded that fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda fighters currently operate in Afghanistan. At the same time, the administration is shifting its stance on the Taliban, arguing for the first time ever that they do not pose a direct threat to the U.S. Despite these potentially strategy-altering developments, the call for a troop increase continues to come from politicians and military leaders at the highest levels of government, and on both sides of the political divide.
Even more troubling is the administration’s admission that despite their own strategy assessments, a reduction in troop levels is completely out of the question. This comes at a time when a recent CBS/New York Times poll shows that less than a third of Americans support an increase in military personnel in Afghanistan, with a 56 percent majority supporting complete U.S. withdrawal from the region within the next two years.
Now more than ever, we must be the collective voice that drowns out the vocal and influential people calling for more war. We must support a timetable for withdrawal, not of escalation. We must be the force that pushes our president toward the peaceful and prudent policies that best represent our country and community, and best serve our national security interests.
Students and citizens, the door is open to real, substantive change. The lives of far too many are at stake. We cannot hesitate. We must act now.