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Afghanistan War Turns Eleven: Is It Still Worth the Cost?

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PHOTO: Painting of Afghanistan Mountain and Child from "Windows and Mirrors" exhibit. Courtesy of: AFSC
PHOTO: Painting of Afghanistan Mountain and Child from "Windows and Mirrors" exhibit. Courtesy of: AFSC
October 1, 2012

CHICAGO - As Sunday's 11th anniversary of the Afghanistan war approaches, more people in Illinois and around the nation are questioning whether it's really worth the cost. According to the latest polls, 60 percent of Americans want to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

Michael McConnell, Great Lakes regional program director for the American Friends Service Committee, wants the war to end. He points to a study from the Political Economic Research Institute that found military spending creates far fewer jobs than investments in education and other programs.

"The money we're spending on bombs and tanks and the military is money that we're not spending on infrastructure in the United States, or alternative energy."

McConnell says the war in Afghanistan has cost more than $500 billion, and the lives of more than 2000 American troops as well as thousands of Afghan civilian lives.

Alejandro Villatoro, a Chicago veteran, was sent to Afghanistan as part of the President's "surge" of additional troops. He says he was told they were there to win the hearts and minds of the people, but feels it didn't work out that way. He's particularly concerned about the attacks by allies that Americans are supposed to be training, and the accidental killings of civilians.

"We're causing more damage than doing good. It's just a huge loss on both sides. So, it is time to withdraw and really start taking care of our troops."

Villatoro says he lost a friend in Iraq and has many others who were injured in the conflict in Afghanistan. He says he considers himself patriotic, but is opposed to the war in Afghanistan.

McConnell says those who want to control the U.S. budget deficit need to consider the reason for a huge portion of the deficit.

"Both the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war have been credit-card wars. Every year Congress swipes its credit card, and the U.S. taxpayer is billions of dollars in debt."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the two wars together have cost nearly $1.5 trillion, $127 billion this year alone.

President Obama is promising to end the war in 2014. Some want to end it earlier, including some former strong supporters of the war from both political parties. Others argue that leaving now would empower the Taliban.

McConnell says he's convinced that drone strikes and civilian casualties will never win Afghan hearts and minds.

The AFSC uses a traveling exhibit called "Windows and Mirrors" to demonstrate the human cost of war, through artwork from American professionals and Afghan children.

The "Windows and Mirrors" schedule is at www.afsc.org

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL