Curtis Scaparrotti, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Kay Bailey Hutchison with Brig. Gen. Wolf-Jürgen Stahl in Afghanistan in February 2018

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for nearly 18 years. The war, which does not appear to be ended soon, has not received significant attention from Democratic presidential candidates. Kayla Glaraton writes on why candidates still need to discuss this endless war.

The American era that began with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 is all that my generation has known. I cannot remember a time when troops were not in Afghanistan. It seems as if my whole life Americans have wondered when and how the conflict would stop.

In the last four presidential elections, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been a major topic. Although the number of troops in the country has dwindled, Americans are still being killed. Yet, heading into the election, the issue seems to be an afterthought. It has yet to receive the attention it deserves from candidates.

That’s not to say the topic has not come up. Two presidential candidates, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are veterans of the Afghanistan War. 

During the first debate, Gabbard challenged Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) on his argument that the United States needs to stay completely engaged in the war.

She reminded him that many veterans went to fight Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, not fight the Taliban. She sees little progress from years of fighting to prevent a safe harbor in the country for terrorists. Like other candidates, including Ryan, Gabbard thinks the money being spent in the war would be put to better use at home.

However, she and her fellow candidates have yet to provide a detailed plan of they would end the conflict. The frustration surrounding the war comes from a lack of clear action, as well as its extraordinary length. Nearly every 2020 candidate agrees that the troops need to come home, but they have not given the American people a plan for how to accomplish that.

Little Attention Given in Debates

The biggest debate topics this election cycle have included healthcare and climate change. These issues, as well as gun control and immigration, are very important to voters right now. The trouble with the debate format is that it is tailored to the news cycle.

Progress in withdrawing from Afghanistan has been slow. The current administration has yet to provide any timeline for when the number of U.S. servicemen and women there will be zero. The war has been continually pushed further down on the to-do list in many candidates’ minds. 

However, President Trump’s erratic attempt to make peace with the Taliban earlier this month has boosted the topic’s “newsworthiness”. In last week’s debate, Democrats were questioned about their campaign promises to bring the troops home first thing. This pledge, of course, is not unfamiliar to voters. Trump, and President Obama, said the same thing during their campaigns.

Many of the candidates spoke of how the war is not helpful to both America and the world’s interests. Correctly noting that no government official has really described what winning the war would look like, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) only vaguely talked about her plan. Rebuilding the State Department and increasing diplomatic efforts was the only substantial offer she made, however. She was more focused on the use of the military. “We cannot ask our military to keep solving problems that cannot be solved militarily,” she said.

Mayor Buttigieg had a different approach to answering the question. Instead of offering a timeline for ending the current war, he pledged to make it harder to get into another “endless” war. His plan is to add a three-year limit to using military force, so that Congress will need to continue voting on whether to keep the nation involved in a conflict.

Why the War in Afghanistan Still Matters

Regardless of the frustrating fact that the war looks like it will still be “endless”, it is still important. The cost of the war in Afghanistan has been high, both in terms of money and bodies. In debates, several candidates, like Rep. Gabbard, focused less on how many Americans have died and more on how much we have spent.

According to the website The Balance, the Afghanistan War has cost the nation $975 billion. This total, compiled from Brown University research, includes the estimated cost in 2019. Only the Second World War cost more.

The cost matters not just because it is money we could be putting into our own country. There is not much to suggest that the money is being spent in a successful way. Although the Taliban was technically removed from power in Oct. 2001, they are still a dominant force in Afghanistan.

But it is not the monetary cost that is important. The loss of billions of dollars in the conflict is nothing compared to the human cost. A July 2019 United Nations report found that 1,400 Afghans were killed in the first six months of this year. Another 2,400 were injured. 

This past Monday, a soldier from Greenbrier, Tenn. became the 17th American to die in combat this year. This is now the deadliest year for service members in Afghanistan since 2014, the year the Pentagon decided to cease combat operations. While the president tries to figure out how to make himself seem like the grand architect of the war’s end, Americans are dying.

Although the war may not seem like a top priority for 2020 candidates, it is still important to the country. It is necessary to end the war, not just because it is costing the United States so much, but because service members are still being killed. After 18 years, it is time for real plans from presidential candidates on how to successfully end the war. Those who have served and died in Afghanistan deserve it.

Kayla Glaraton

Kayla Glaraton is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. Her interests include human rights, American politics and policy, the environment and international affairs. Kayla is studying journalism and...