The undergraduate International Studies program, partnered with the American Friends Service Committee and the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, is offering a series of events exploring how the world has changed since the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Last week, the series entitled 9/11+10 in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the conflict in Afghanistan, offered a discussion panel exploring of exit strategies for the war in Afghanistan. This panel is in conjunction with the art exhibit “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan”, part of which is on display in Kalmanovitz Hall until October 28, 2011.
The panel consisted of Professor Kelly McBride, director of the Peace and Justice Studies Program and co-chair of the International Studies program at USF, and Matt Southworth, a former solider deployed to northern Iraq in 2004 and current anti-war activist who is currently working as a legislative associate of foreign policy specializing in Afghanistan and Greater Middle East policy.
Professor McBride offered a series of statistics intended to shed some light on both the human and fiscal cost of the war. She said “Although the state department reports they’ve only spent $500 billion on the war on Afghanistan, The Watson Institute at Brown University launched an independent investigation and discovered that number is actually somewhere between $3-4 trillion.
McBride also said 236,000 people have died in the Afghanistan conflict since President Obama deployed more troops in 2008. McBride added, “The number of U.S. casualties has also increased… this is the longest military conflict the United States has been involved in and 51% of veterans returning home report their actions abroad increase the likelihood of extremism.”
Southworth shared stories about his time in Iraq, where he served as an Intelligence Analyst. He described numerous instances in which he and his fellow soldiers were required to “raid houses at 3am, picking up every man of fighting age, the youngest person we took was 10, the oldest was 71.” He added “We’d go into their houses and cover their heads in bags and put them in our vehicles… later they’d be place in a containment room that had four glass walls… machine guns were always pointed at the people inside and we’d interrogate whoever we snagged for twelve to twenty-four hours. Southworth said, “We never stopped to question why, we just determined their intelligence value but never their human value… We picked up people who were both neutral and pro-U.S. and radicalized them by treating them this way, it felt un-American to me but I didn’t speak up. There was no trial; in Afghanistan everyone was guilty until proven innocent… We were exercising absolute oppression. ”
Sophomore International Studies major and Peer Advisor Nicole Jones, who moderated the panel said, “The discussion…comes at a good time. The United States has been involved in Afghanistan for 10 years as of this month and people are asking ‘What are we doing here? Are we scrounging for resources or improving infrastructure?’”
Although neither party gave a direct plan of action regarding how the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan or the Middle East at large, Professor McBride said, “Military strategy, either by ‘taking out the bad guys’ or ‘winning over the hearts and minds’, isn’t working; the conflict is just too layered with internal ethnic and religious tensions… and international interference.”
Southworth added “I think there are parts of Afghanistan where a western democracy could work but in most places it would not be advantageous partially because of their historical and cultural traditions… we should be working on creating a civil society. Ninety-seven percent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product is from international donors and that’s just not sustainable.”