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Obama Makes The Right Afghan Call

Robert C. O'Brien is the Co-Chair of the U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. He served as a U.S. Representative to the United Nations General Assembly under President George W. Bush.

In his December 1, speech at West Point, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The President's stated goal for this surge is to secure key population centers, train Afghan forces, transfer responsibility to a capable Afghan partner, and increase our partnership with Pakistan.

The President's decision buys time for our Afghan allies to build institutions to defend themselves from the Taliban and should be applauded. Unfortunately, the President's progressive base is upset and even mainstream liberals such as NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman have expressed doubts about the President's decision.

While corruption in Afghanistan is rampant, there are courageous Afghans trying to build a new society by fighting corruption, crime and extremism. These Afghans include judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers who have been trained by the Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. They have expressed a strong desire to establish the rule of law in Afghanistan by reforming the judicial system. An example of their success is the Counter Narcotics Tribunal in Kabul, which is convicting an increasing number of narco-traffickers in transparent and fair court proceedings.

The number of female judges and prosecutors is also increasing each year. These successes have come at a price - a rising number of assassinations of judges, prosecutors and lawyers and threats against their families. These are some of the "capable partners" the President seeks to strengthen through civilian training programs as well as to protect -- with better trained Afghan security forces.

Make no mistake; if we leave precipitously our Afghan friends will put up a fight. They are tough that way. The Northern Alliance held out against the Taliban for years the last time around and it was from their territory that we commenced the liberation of Afghanistan after September 11.

We must realize, however, that with its lucrative opium plantations in southern Afghanistan, Al Qaeda financing from the Gulf and sanctuaries in Pakistan, the Taliban will likely defeat our Afghan allies if coalition forces leave before achieving the President's goals.

A Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would make our exit from Vietnam look like a picnic. Like in Saigon, those who are working with us in Kabul will be the first ones rounded up. The next groups to be hit will be ethnic minorities and women. To get a feel for what will happen, recall the Taliban's take over of the Hazara region in September 1998. Then, Taliban fighters searched Bamiyan villages to find their opponents. They arrested and killed any male Hazara above thirteen years of age. Thousands of Hazara houses were systematically destroyed or burnt to the ground and fruit orchards were cut down. International Red Cross and relief workers were also murdered. Only in recent years have the tragic details of mass executions and Balkans-style "ethnic cleansing" emerged from Bamiyan province.

In addition to the slaughter of minority tribesmen, the Taliban kept women from working, attending school and prohibited them from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. In public, women were forced to wear the burqa. Hospitals were segregated and male doctors prohibited from treating them. According to the Washington Post, Kabul's half-million women were relegated to one hospital that had 35 beds and no clean water, electricity or surgical equipment.

Such Taliban cruelty is not mere history but continues today. In Pakistan's Swat Valley (once the "Switzerland of Pakistan"), where until recently the Taliban ruled, over 200 schools have been destroyed, girls over the age of eight were kept from attending class and public libraries ransacked. Further, the Taliban banned music and dancing, television and internet cafes. Women were ordered to wear the burqa. Pakistan's newspapers have published photos of a 10 year old girl being forced to pray on a bed of hot coals.

The Taliban brooks no dissent and enforces its edicts with public executions, floggings, hand and foot amputations and other medieval torture such as the falaka - a thick post with bars that traps the feet of up to ten prisoners, whose soles are flayed with a length of cable. In one widely reported 2001 incident, Taliban fighters shot dead eight boys for daring to laugh. The teenage boys had been chuckling when Taliban gunmen mowed them down.

To be certain, the challenges facing our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, diplomats and aid workers as they assist our allies in building an Afghanistan that can defeat the Taliban are significant. Building robust civil and military institutions in a short period of time will compound those challenges. Notwithstanding the difficulty of these challenges, the President was right to give our Afghan allies the opportunity to succeed.

By Robert C. O' Brien

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