There are a billion reasons a week to get out of Afghanistan, over $50 billion this year alone.
That is approximately what it is costing the United States’ taxpayer to stay in this harsh and ungrateful place. At a time when our federal government is broke, we are hemorrhaging money in this primitive, regressive, intolerant, fourth world nation that will never thank us for our blood and treasure spent.
In the weeks leading up to my visit here, I argued passionately that we should just cut our losses and bring the troops home as quickly as logistically possible.
Shortly after the bombs started blowing last Sunday, the machine gun fire slicing the air, I changed my mind.
To borrow a phrase from another topic, the ‘inconvenient truth’ for critics of the Obama Administration is that the current Afghan policy seems to be working.
What is it? With Bin Laden dead and Al Qaeda reeling, the strategy essentially is that we stay just long enough to give the current government of Afghanistan a reasonable chance to be strong enough to defend itself against the true forces of evil, the theological terrorists known as the Taliban.
The Taliban suicide attacks Sunday on Kabul and other provincial capitals in Eastern Afghanistan were impressively coordinated. At about 1:45pm local time, they hit near the British, German and U.S. embassies, even as their forces struck U.S. and Afghan civilian centers and military bases in Kabul and other eastern cities. Involving hundreds of young fighters who knew they were not coming back alive, they hit and then held out until they were killed by Afghan soldiers and cops counter-attacking.
It was the first large-scale attack since September 2011, and it shocked U.S. officials who thought the enemy too beaten down to pull off an operation of such magnitude and depth.
I was stuck inside the U.S. Embassy when it happened.
Having just interviewed Marine Corps General John Allen, the commander of all international forces in Afghanistan a half hour before, I got a call from our ambassador Ryan Crocker that he could squeeze me in for an interview at his residence near General Allen’s office in the Green Zone. So I took Greg Hart, my longtime cameraman and producer to the embassy, while brother Craig took our second cameraman, ex-GI Frank Merola back into the heart of the city to do a story for our Sunday evening show about the collapse of the Afghan economy in the run up to the planned NATO/ISAF pullout in 2014.
As soon as Greg and I cleared the embassy’s impressive security and walked across the courtyard the first bombs blew.
We were immediately hustled into a bomb shelter in the embassy’s interior. Trapped inside a laundry room, I begged, pleaded and argued angrily that we be allowed to leave, but were told we ‘could be shot’ if we disobeyed orders to hunker down until the emergency was over. So seething with impatience to be out in the field reporting on what I came half a world to report, I watched the attacks unfold on live, local television.
On that TV inside the embassy came editorial salvation. Greg and I watched brother Craig, Frank and our Afghan producer Akbar Shinwari on the air on local TV in the thick of the action. Relieved that we had the unfolding crisis well-covered , I interviewed Ambassador Crocker about what he knew about the specifics of the attack; and otherwise kept busy until what proved to be just the first moments of an 18 hour wave of fighting.
Craig and his team swung by the embassy to pick us up, and we along with our local correspondent Dominic Di Natale started broadcasting the story, beginning on Fox and Friends Sunday morning East Coast time.
The big picture bad news was that after dumping a mountain of money on this forlorn country, and after all the fighting, killing and dying, the Taliban still has the capability to strike in coordination and broadly, this time at urban centers across eastern Afghanistan. But despite the spread and strength of the enemy’s attacks, there was the good news too, which led to my change of heart about an early pullout from Afghanistan.
As U.S. and NATO forces hunkered down under orders to leave the counter-attack to our local allies, those Afghan forces fought back impressively against the Taliban attackers. They moved with determination, courage and, most surprisingly, competence.
Although the government forces lost 11 cops and several civilians, 38 Taliban suicide attackers got their wish and were killed in action; only one was captured.
In the time between now and the planned 2014 pullout, the U.-S.-trained Afghan security forces will only get bigger, stronger and more confident. It just may be that they will be capable of defending their country against the terrorists and prevent it from ever again becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda.
Maybe we will get what we paid for. As I asked a Taliban spokesman on-the-air live the next morning, “How does it feel to get your a-- kicked?”