While on the campaign trail for the 2008 election Barack Obama often extolled the virtues of the Afghanistan War, contrasting it sharply with the disastrous Iraq War which he had vociferously protested.  A year after winning that election, he faces arguably his toughest political decision to date: should he send more troops to Afghanistan? The debate within the White House appears to be focused on how Obama should continue this war (more troops or more sophisticated technology such as unmanned drones) as opposed to why he should. In reality, sending in more troops is delaying the inevitable and Obama must put an end to this war as soon as possible.

The first reason to end this war is the lack of clarity over the war’s objective. In March, the President stated that his goal in Afghanistan was to “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda”. Yet most experts will tell you that al-Qaeda is a diminished force which has largely fled Afghanistan. It would be more prudent for the U.S. to concentrate on defeating al-Qaeda in countries such as Yemen and Somalia, which have recently become a hotbed for Islamic extremists, while paying more attention to the tinderbox that is Pakistan. Unfortunately, the U.S. is bogged down in a perpetual battle with the Taliban at huge human cost for all concerned. The War in Afghanistan has evolved into another nation-building exercise, despite the fact that Obama stated that “We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy“.

The military is ostensibly in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. from future al-Qaeda attacks, yet how many of al-Qaeda’s most devastating attacks have been organized from Afghanistan? 9/11? Yes. The attacks provided the casus belli for the war. The 2002 Bali Bombings? No. They were planned in Thailand. The 2004 Madrid Bombings? No. They were planned in Spain and North Africa. The 2005 London Bombings? No. They were planned in England. The idea that the War in Afghanistan will protect the U.S. from future attacks is naïve and myopic.

It is also important to remember that there are many other nations involved in the Afghanistan War alongside the U.S.  Nevertheless, these countries have grown reluctant to send more troops and now resemble a coalition of the whining rather than a coalition of the willing. Many governments are under severe domestic criticism over the futility of the war; as the fatalities rise, international support wanes.

It would appear that, by staying in Afghanistan, Obama is trying to protect his country’s military image and avoid the embarrassment of the U.S. withdrawing from two wars in quick succession. Yet the U.S. must learn a tough lesson on the limitations of its military might and the danger of entering a war without an exit strategy.

The question is: does Barack Obama want the next decade to pan out the same way as this one has, with the U.S. incessantly engaged in an unwinnable ‘war on terror’? Mr. President – the time for change has come.

Michael Collins, October 2009