Reasons are many to quickly leave Afghanistan

Americans finally heard from the two presidential candidates about removing U.S. soldiers from harm’s way in Afghanistan.

During Monday night’s debate, President Barack Obama restated his commitment to bring all American troops home by the end of 2014. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, said he agreed with that plan, although it was only a year ago that Republicans criticized Obama’s promise to withdraw, calling it a dangerous strategy.

Nevertheless, having consensus is good news. After nearly 11 years, the expenditure of $500 billion in taxpayer dollars and the deaths of more than 2,000 American soldiers, it’s time to end this war.

Americans, too, are weary. Recent polls show that a clear majority of respondents opposes the war.

There is no reason to delay the withdrawal, and many reasons to quicken the pace. We’re spending billions of dollars that are sorely needed at home, and conditions for combat troops on the ground in Afghanistan have worsened.

The violence against American men and women has taken a dangerous turn in the past year, with supposedly friendly Afghan troops and police officers murdering U.S. soldiers. It is now routine for Americans in Afghanistan to wear body armor at all times around Afghan forces and on their military installations.

That sad fact has caused several NATO countries to hasten their retreat, reducing the continued effectiveness of the allied training objective and making American soldiers even more vulnerable.

The Afghanistan War is already the longest conflict in U.S. history, and there appears nothing to be gained by continuing it. Afghans must now take responsibility for defending their own country.

Every day that goes by, more Americans are killed, disabled or wounded psychologically. We can count the wounded – more than 16,000 so far – but there is no way to estimate how many lives have been devastated by post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury.

Even with apparent political agreement, however, an orderly withdrawal can be only marginally accelerated.

As Christian Hill reported in The Olympian on Monday, there are already large teams of military personnel exclusively assigned to plan the transition out of Afghanistan.

While combat forces remain on the ground, other military personnel – such as Jeff Brewster, a South Sound resident and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve – are working out the logistics of returning $42 billion worth of Stryker vehicles, heavy artillery and other equipment to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other destinations around the U.S. Hill reported that the goal is to ship 1,200 vehicles and 1,000 containers of equipment every month.

Brewster said his 10-month experience helping to plan the withdrawal taught him an important lesson: “Wars are a lot easier to get into than disengage from.”

That’s also a good lesson for our next president.