An Open Letter to the President and the American People about the War in Afghanistan
The President and the People of the United States
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Authored by U.S. Marine Corps infantry veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
Sgt Devon Read, Cpl Rick Reyes, Cpl Jake Diliberto and Cpl Cameron White.
Recently the ongoing war in Afghanistan has fallen into the spotlight as the most hotly debated and
important part of our nationʼs foreign policy, and rightly so. As he took ofﬁce, President Obama called it
the good war and has indicated he would do whatever is necessary to succeed there, but exactly what
that means has recently become the topic of quite a good deal of debate and discussion between the
White Houseʼs national security team and the Pentagon. Many conservative news outlets have begun
dragging up every patriotic and sentimental reason why the President should immediately redouble his
efforts in the region.
Many of those patriotic and sentimental reasons, however, are based on myths about the situation in
Afghanistan and we rightly respect that the President is taking his time in making a decision on how to
proceed and wish to present him a debunking of those myths in hopes that he will come to the right
In September General Stanley McChrystal's classiﬁed report on the situation in Afghanistan to
President Obama was leaked and it immediately caused quite a commotion. The General told CBSʼs
60-minutes that I think that in some areas that the breadth of violence, the geographic spread of
violence, places to the north and to the west, are a little more than I would have gathered,1 and his
report requests additional troops to complete the counter-insurgency mission he was given. There is
some confusion as to exactly how many troops he is asking for; many news outlets report that the
General is asking for an additional 40,000-50,000 troops, but some sources point out that deep inside
his classiﬁed report he concludes that he needs 500,000 troops over ﬁve years. This ﬁgure may include
local Afghani police and military, but there is a good deal of confusion surrounding it.
"The numbers are really pretty horrifying. What they say, embedded in this report by McChrystal,
is they would need 500,000 troops - boots on the ground - and ﬁve years to do the job. No one
expects that the Afghan Army could step up to that. Are we gonna put even half that of U.S.
troops there, and NATO forces? No way." (source: MSBNC'sMorning Joe, September 23, 2009) 2
Since the leak of this report the President has been portrayed as wafﬂing on his commitment to the
counter-insurgency strategy with many Republicans in Congress calling for him to immediately begin to
fulﬁll Gen. McChrystal's request. However, it seems that President Obama has chosen to take his time
in evaluating his options in Afghanistan instead of sending more of our brave young men and women in
uniform into harms way without clearly deﬁned goals, an exit strategy or even a clear purpose. 2009 is
already the deadliest year for US troops in Afghanistan, suggesting a simple and direct correlation
between the number of troops in Afghanistan and the number of troops that are killed there. Before any
more troops are sent to the country, we ask that the President and the American people re-evaluate our
mission there and take a close look at some of the commonly held misconceptions and outright
falsehoods rattled off by the media's talking heads and the pundits pushing for an expansion of the war.
Myth: Al-Qaeda, the organization responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans on 9/11,
uses Afghanistan as itʼs major operating base.
Facts: After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. was forced to recognize the global actors of
terror in a real way, which lead to the U.S. invading Afghanistan in an attempt to shut-down Al-Qaedaʼs
training and operational bases there and defend our nation from further attacks. Unfortunately, we
failed to recognize how exactly Al-Qaeda operates. It is a radicalized and extremist international
criminal organization who operates out of Germany, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the U.S. as well as many
other countries around the world. The initial invasion of Afghanistan very successfully routed or
destroyed those members of Al-Qaeda in the region, and to date they have not returned. Afghanistanʼs
President Hamid Karzai claimed earlier this year that there are no Al-Qaeda based in Afghanistan, a
statement backed up by CENTCOM Commander, General David Petraeus on CNN, I would agree with
that assessment, certainly [about] Al-Qaeda and itʼs afﬁliates.3 This criminal organization continues to
exist and operate around the world, but not in Afghanistan.
Myth: Al-Qaeda/The Taliban are conspiring together and ﬁghting the Taliban is essential to ﬁghting the
Global War on Terror.
Facts: This is ﬂawed for several reasons. The Taliban is a Pashtun/Afghani/Pakistani nationalist group
who see themselves as ﬁghting a civil war against a corrupt government and the foreign occupiers that
provide protection for that government. It would be easy to say that they are just another extremist
group with conspiracy theories about the corruption in their government, but even General
McChystalʼs report discusses at some length the deep problems within President Karzaiʼs government,
which is composed of corrupt top-level cabinet members, local ofﬁcials and regional drug lords that
came to power when the US supported the Mujahideen in expelling Russia from Afghanistan in the
1980ʼs. Further evidence of corruption within the Karzai regime can be seen in the internationally
disputed Presidential election results, with reports of widespread vote rigging, fraud and even reports of
a systematic cover-up to conceal the extent of electoral fraud by President Karzai.4
The Taliban have no interest in international military activities or terrorist attacks on American soil. They
are not conspiring with Al-Qaeda to destroy America anymore than the US is conspiring with the U.K. to
destroy Afghanistan. McChrystalʼs report even backs up the assessment that the Talibanʼs primary
focus is ﬁghting a corrupt central government. This is a US-invited problem because, despite all of
these allegations of fraud, we continue to back Karzaiʼs government and protect him with American
troops and military contractors. The Global War on Terror came about because of the 18 people who
attacked us on 9/11, who were from Saudi Arabian Wahabi traditions and not Taliban leaders.
If occupying countries who harbor Al-Qaeda is acceptable foreign policy for the US, why do we not
invade Germany, Somalia or Yemen, three countries that Al-Qaeda has operated and planned attacks
from? In fact, Mohamed Atta and other leaders of the group that attacked the United States on 9/11
operated, planned and trained in Germany for many years as the Hamburg Cell. (source: The 9/11
Myth: General McChrystalʼs surge strategy worked in Iraq so it will work in Afghanistan.
Facts: Iraq and Afghanistan have almost nothing in common. In Iraq the Sunni were losing a civil war
against the newly empowered Shiites and were more than ready to back up the US surge effort,
especially when it came with monetary payouts. The Great Awakening added 100,000 Sunni troops
to General McChrystalʼs 30,000 additional American forces. There is no similar group in Afghanistan
ready and willing to join a surge of American forces. Afghanʼs see US troops as a colonizing force, one
like the many others that they have fought to repel over the countryʼs history, and more troops would
only exacerbate that problem.
Myth: Weʼre liberating the women in Afghanistan and they want us to help them.
Facts: The cabinet and Supreme Court that President Hamid Karzai installed have the same
fundamentalist and misogynistic views of womenʼs rights that the Taliban did.
For most Afghan women you would have to say that, although there have been improvements on
paper in the Constitution and International treaties, for most Afghan women, life has stayed the same
and for a very great number, life has gotten much worse. Ann Jones, author Kabul in Winter
The perception of the women of Afghanistan having been severely oppressed only under the
regime of the Taliban and then having been freed by the United States military intervention in
2001 is a false perception - Kavita Ramdas, President & CEO, Global Fund for Women
According to Afghan Member of Parliament Malalai Joya unfortunately there is no fundamental change
in the situation of the women of Afghanistan.5 The women of Afghanistan now living under the US
occupation are just as oppressed as they were before the invasion, but now they also live in a war zone
where women disproportionately suffer the effects of the war.6
There is no question that women in Afghanistan have long been oppressed by the fundamentalist and
misogynistic attitudes of those in power, but the problem is, weʼre not helping. President Hamid Karzai
recently signed a law that Amnesty International and the UN calls the legalization of rape. As long as
we continue to blindly support this corrupt and oppressive government, the people of Afghanistan and
the women in particular will see us as directly supporting their oppressive policies. A recent BBC/ABC
opinion poll done in March of 2009 revealed 80\% of Afghanis do not want us in Afghanistan.
As Karzai continues in his struggle to maintain some semblance of control, he is continuing to use
authoritarian and oppressive means and the US has not challenged him to change.
Myth: Itʼs better to take the ﬁght over there than let them bring the ﬁght over here.
Facts: In the early days of the War on Terror, Jerry Fallwell and Jesse Jackson debated the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan. Jerry Fallwell repeated the phrase uttered by Donald Rumsfeld, rather ﬁght them
over there than over here. Jesse Jackson wisely responded, the ﬁght is not one that should be dealt
with through military intervention. This statement needs some critical thought. Whomever we are
ﬁghting in Afghanistan, our considerations should be founded on the threat to our own nation. The
Taliban is a Nationalist organization that has no interest in leaving their own country. Al-Qaeda
operates all over the world, so ﬁghting them over there clearly is not something that can be done
through massive military intervention when they are actually spread out across the globe.
In 2008, the Rand Corporation did a study of 648 terrorist groups between 1963 and 2006. When they
looked into how those groups ended they found that military force was effective only only 7\% of the
"The United States cannot conduct an effective long-term counterterrorism campaign against al-
Qaeda or other terrorist groups without understanding how terrorist groups end," said Seth Jones,
the study's lead author and a political scientist at RAND, a nonproﬁt research organization. "In
most cases, military force isn't the best instrument."7
Relying on a policy of proper police and intelligence work to root out terrorist leaders is a more
appropriate alternative to counter-insurgency-minded military-intervention and has historically been
much more successful, 40 percent was through police and intelligence services either apprehending or
killing the key leaders of these groups. Donald Rumsfeld, Jerry Fallwell and other supporters of the old
conventional war-ﬁghting framework refuse to change their worldview. The US must reshape our
worldview and deal with the threat of international criminal groups like Al-Qaeda appropriately.
Additionally, the RAND corporation points out that;
Al Qaida has been involved in more terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, than it was during its
prior history and the group's attacks since then have spanned an increasingly broader range of
targets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa,
This is evidence that ﬁghting the War on Terror by occupying Afghanistan has done nothing to reduce
Al Qaedaʼs ability to mount attacks around the world.
Myth: We are helping to bring stability to the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.
Facts: The US-led war in Af-Pak is one in which 25 million Afghanis and 172 million Pakistanis are
engaged in a geopolitical and social nightmare. Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world
with little-to-no natural resources. Before there is true stability an entire infrastructure is needed in this
region; an infrastructure that the UN, the Arab League, NATO and the rest of the western world have
not adequately directed funds to create. This should be the goal of the US budget for Af-Pak, not
military interventionism. Indeed, the US Senate foreign relations committee in August of 2009 stated
Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is not a reconstruction project--it is a construction project, starting
almost from scratch in a country that will probably remain poverty-stricken no matter how much
the U.S. and the international community accomplish in the coming years."8
Due to rising civilian casualties caused by Predator drone strikes, local Afghans are now seeing the US
occupation the same way they saw the Soviet Hind Helicopters from 3 decades ago. As stated by the
Rand Corporation, the Cato Institute, and many scholars, the rising civilian casualties are, A recruiting
windfall for the Pakistani Taliban.
Additionally, we should also re-evaluate the very basis of the assumption that it is in the best interests
of our national security to rebuild failed states, because it ignores that terrorists can move to governed
spaces. Rather than setting up in weak, ungoverned states, enemies can flourish in strong states
because these countries have formally recognized governments with the sovereignty to reject foreign
interference in their domestic affairs. This is one reason why terrorists find sanctuary across the border
Myth: Afghanistanʼs opium trade is run by the insurgents as a method of funding their activities.
Facts: Before the US invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban government, with the support and collaboration
of the UN, had imposed an impressive drug eradication program, leading to a complete ban on poppy
cultivation. By 2001, prior the US led invasion, opium production had collapsed by more than 90
percent. In fact, in the history of the Vienna based United Nations Ofﬁce on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC), no other country was able to implement a comparable program.10 Since the invasion,
however, opium production in the region has grown dramatically, increasing twenty-two fold by 2004.
Many pundits argue that Taliban insurgents are responsible for these increases, but according to UN
Ofﬁce of Drugs and Crime, the insurgents control only 3\% of the Afghanistan drug trade. Who controls
the other 97\%?
Myth: Our Country and our Troops are obligated to fulﬁll this task in Afghanistan.
Facts: The Department of Defenseʼs primary responsibility is to protect our Constitution and our citizens
from the military forces of other states. Our military is not suited for or trained to conduct operations of
state-building and foreign-government protection. Even if it were, we do not have the 600,000 troops
truly needed to pacify this region. The leadership of the United States needs to recognize the very real
limits of our capabilities.
According to the Department of Veterans affairs, approximately 43,000 troops with PTSD and TBI are
being redeployed to Afghanistan for combat duties. We need to make a priority of dealing with the
damage already done to our troops by eight long years of war before stretching our men and women in
uniform even further.
Myth: The cost of the war, both in dollars and in lives, is negligible because it assures our further
Facts: Most Americans fail to grasp exactly how costly these wars have been. We are spending 4-6
billion dollars a week to continue them, which we are paying for via loans from foreign governments and
quantitative easing. These absurd costs have made their way through congress as emergency war-
funding bills and have been pushed through the House and Senate with minimal debate for eight years.
To date we have spent over $228 billion on the war in Afghanistan and see no end in sight. At a rate of
$60 billion or more per year, how long can we keep this up?
This year has already seen more American troops lose their lives in Afghanistan than any year
previously. As of Sunday, Oct 4, 2009 at least 779 members of the US military have died in
Afghanistan.11 Unfortunately, there is no quantiﬁable or logical connection between the war in
Afghanistan and our own national security.
Myth: If we leave we will loose our place as the world leader and the country will fall back into the
hands of terrorist-sympathizers or even terrorists themselves.
Facts: This is an absurd discussion. Our strength as a nation in this world did not fall when we were
attacked on 9/11; the events of that day only increased the worldʼs sympathies for the United States.
Every day that we conduct military operations against the largely civilian population and violate
international law we alienate the entire muslim world. We should be engaging the international
community in regards to the problems in Afghanistan. The world wants the US to be a leader for the
ideals of freedom and fairness that we once represented, not the leader in state-building disasters like
Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be.
The Taliban have recently publicly stated that they have no interest in attacking other countries, but that
as long as there are foreign occupiers in their country they would continue to ﬁght them.
"We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe, nor we have
such agenda today," the group said. "Still, if you want to turn the country of the proud
and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination
and have braced for a prolonged war." 12
Obviously the U.S. does not want Al-Qaeda to ﬁnd a safe haven in Afghanistan, but there are far better
methods to prevent that from happening than simply occupying the country until it embraces Western
Democracy or until every last Taliban ﬁghter is dead or captured.
As a U.S. Marine Corps Infantryman, Corporal Rick Reyes deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy
Al-Qaedaʼs bases of operations there. Recently he went back to meet with locals and NGOs and
understand better what is currently happening in the country. The following is his assessment of the
situation as well as his recommendation for how he suggests we should proceed.
"The most effective weapon we have in combating and suppressing Taliban extremists in
Afghanistan is the very system we are currently systematically destroying, the tribal nature of the
country. Working with and supporting rural areas and with tribal leaders directly is the best chance we
have for winning in Afghanistan. Using this system is the only effective way to get anything done there.
On my recent trip back to Afghanistan, I met with the UNDP. They've had a very successful
disarmament program with which they've been able to reach out to 30,000 villages and they have
disarmed 28,000 of them.
Women for Women International-Afghanistan is undergoing a pilot program that has also proved to
be very successful. They are getting large groups of men into classroom settings and teaching these
men about women's rights, they are in their second batch now and these men are taking the message
back to their villages.
I also met with the minister of Afghanistanʼs reconstruction and rehab agency who has also had a
very successful rebuilding program. They ask the participating villages for a 10\% stake in all projects.
Therefore, the village has vested interest in the reconstruction projects and allow no one, not even the
Taliban to interfere with them. They continue to stand strong today.
I met with Chris Eaton, the executive director to Agha Kan, an NGO, who has also been very
successful in his program. This NGO has been in Afghanistan for ﬁve years. The ﬁrst year, when they
chose to use private security to protect their group, they were attacked. They quickly ﬁgured out the
best form of security is no security at all. Once they took a more personal approach with the villagers
and did away with ALL security, they immediately began having better success and have not been
attacked or threatened in the last four years.
On the ﬁnal day of my stay I met with Mohamed Akram, the President of PTS Commission13,
Afghanistan. His organization is heading the peace and reconciliation program, an effort to reach out to
village elders to make contact with known Taliban ﬁghters and convince them to lay down their
weapons and join the peace process. I also met with a former Taliban leader who was one of 29 black-
listed before he made contact with the PTS Commission. He is now working for the organization.
They've been able to bring through their program 9,000 Taliban, with 13,000 more going through right
now. The Taliban members agree to leave the Taliban, undergo a process of picture-taking, document-
signing and ﬁnger-printing. Once complete, they are integrated back into society as civil servants.
The common thread I found between all these programs is that they utilize the tribal systems
already in place to reach out to elders and tribal leaders. The programs that they have implemented
have proved very successful, all without any support or protection from US or NATO forces.
When the Talibanʼs governance of Afghanistan collapsed in 2001, the UN lead a very successful
peace-keeping operation of aid and security. It is my ﬁrm opinion that any security and policing that is
needed has to be done by the UN initially, and then Afghan police if itʼs going to have any hope of being
successful as the US is currently seen by the majority of the country as a colonizing force.
Every day, tribal elders continue to convince more Taliban members to lay down their weapons and
go to the PTS Commission and theyʼve been very successful thus far. These village elders are also
convincing the young men of their tribes not to join the Taliban. With very little infrastructure and
virtually zero industry in the country, itʼs a constant challenge.
It is the village elders who are working with the UN to disarm ﬁghters, itʼs the village elders who are
enforcing women's rights with Women for Women international, and itʼs the village elders who are
helping the Afghanistan rebuilding program to be successful. It will be them that will suppress and
eventually eliminate the Taliban and not allow safe havens for Al Qaeda because they know itʼs what
their country needs. They will be the ones to secure and rebuild.Unfortunately, it is our occupation of
the country that is compromising the success of these programs, directly and indirectly.
Our current foreign policy is the problem and our troops will be targeted regardless of the task they
are intending to achieve, even if itʼs planting daisies. We need to think outside the box, we need to look
at this war differently and not from a viewpoint clouded by fear of "terrorists." America is suffering from
an acute case of PTSD and itʼs time we cure ourselves and begin to have some solidarity with the
people of Afghanistan. We are at a stale-mate with no chance of a military success. We need to
withdraw on our own terms rather than running from complete defeat as the Soviets did. But we can do
something that they failed to do when they left. We can support Afghans in ways that will help
Afghanistan become more stable, both for their own sake, and for our own." Cpl Rick Reyes, USMC
We fully support the President taking his time to evaluate the actual situation in Afghanistan so that he
can make the best decision for our troops, our nation's security and the people of Afghanistan.
To download a formatted copy of this open letter click the link below:
Afghanistan: Myths, Realities and Solutions
6 Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal