It may be time for US civilians to quit Afghanistan

April 25, 2014 

Before the Taliban and Osama bin Laden made Afghanistan a part of every American’s geographic vocabulary, it was known as a hard place with brutal terrain and unimaginable poverty. After the Sept. 11 attacks, some Americans vented their anger by suggesting the U.S. should bomb Afghanistan “back to the Stone Age.” To which others replied, “They don’t have far to go.”

Indeed, fractious war within Afghanistan continues to confuse other countries that have trouble understanding such a culture. But now Americans in the country are justifiably more serious about whether they should continue their humanitarian work there.

Three Americans, including a doctor and a father and son, were killed Thursday at a hospital in Kabul by an Afghan government security guard. They were at the Cure International Hospital, which is run by a Christian charity. The hospital, founded nine years ago, treats 37,000 patients a year. One specialty is the treatment of mothers and infants, and indeed one of those killed was a pediatrician.

The United States has been roiled in debate for years now over how to withdraw completely from Afghanistan. The troops now constitute a small force (60,000-plus), but the fear is that, if withdrawal continues, those troops left in the country after the end of 2014 will be in great peril and that those Americans working for institutions such as hospitals or other charitable endeavors also will be at greater risk.

The conundrum of Afghanistan also includes the question: When American forces are gone, will the country simply fall back into the hands of terrorists who will run the country based on ancient or ideological law that offers oppressive lives for women and torture and death for those who might be perceived as dissenters?

This much is certain. The United States has to investigate and find ways to protect those of its people within Afghanistan who are doing what they know is dangerous work.

American leaders have always been prone to intervene when the freedoms of other people are in danger, no matter where those people may be. But often, the cultures in which good-hearted Americans work have many mysteries, and there are cultural barriers to overcome. Still, our courageous missionaries carry on, knowing the dangers of dealing with people who may view them with cynical suspicion.

That said, Americans in Afghanistan should not continue to work there if simply going to work becomes a potentially deadly adventure.

And civilians seem to be the target of choice. The Taliban killed more than a dozen people in a restaurant in January. Journalists have been killed, and so have random people eating in a hotel.

The United States needs to continue to consider whether the presence of 10,000 American troops after the “withdrawal” this year is complete is even viable. And policymakers also must decide whether American volunteers in Afghanistan are simply at too much risk and should come home, despite the nobility and charity of their work.

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