Let's Not Forget The Women Of Afghanistan
Over seven years ago, in January of 2002, I was a member of the first Congressional delegation to visit Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. We drove into Kabul just a few weeks after U.S. forces hit the ground.
The devastation left behind by years of conflict was heartbreaking. I met the groundskeeper who had carefully attended to the U.S. embassy even though it had been abandoned since the Soviet invasion in 1979. He had continued in his duties even without pay.
We also visited both an orphanage and children's hospital to bring aid. The visit that I most clearly remember, however, was to a girl's school that had been closed under the Taliban. When we visited, there were no desks or books--just simple rooms.
The girls had never attended school because the Taliban viciously opposed the education of women. The girls knew about the 9/11 attacks, and they expressed their sympathy for the American people and their admiration for our soldiers who were working to oust the Taliban.
Because of their lack of education and school supplies, they had little knowledge about the outside world. When we asked if they knew where the United States was, one student replied that she thought it was somewhere in Europe. I drew a map on the crude chalkboard showing how we had flown from the United States to Germany and then on to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After our visit to the school we purchased educational supplies and atlases to send back to the school in Afghanistan.
Whenever I think about Afghanistan, I cannot help but remember those girls who were so eager to learn. Certainly, our Armed Forces are in Afghanistan to provide strong global leadership against terrorism. We cannot let the Taliban establish a safe haven for al Qaeda. But we also cannot forget what the Taliban did to their own people during their years of rule.
While the Taliban was initially welcomed after years of conflict between warlords, they quickly instituted harsh sharia law that confined women and girls to the home and barred any outside education. Women were even banned from receiving care administered by male doctors. Violators were flogged or stoned in public ceremonies.
Today the Taliban is reinserting its power and control throughout much of Afghanistan. Especially in the south, they are establishing shadow local governments which are enforcing harsh laws and once again sending women behind closed doors and keeping girls out of school.
Recently, some in the U.S. have discussed negotiating with the Taliban. I do not believe that we can negotiate with an organization that so oppresses its people and that harbors international terrorists. We must succeed in Afghanistan by defeating the Taliban.
Regarding President Obama's recent military decision, I believe the additional 30,000 American troops being sent to the country will aid our efforts. Our commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has been clear that there is a dire need for additional resources and personnel in order to secure the country.
Yet, I am concerned that the President established a timeline for withdrawal. We must not let our enemies just wait us out. Which they did well following our initial effort to remove them from power and they can play that game again. Instead, a strong message must be conveyed that the U.S. is fully committed to ensuring freedom and security in Afghanistan and protecting our country from terrorism.
To achieve this we must build up the Afghan national security force so they can provide their own security and so our Armed Forces can return confidently, knowing that the country will not become a training ground for attacks against the United States. It is my hope that Afghanistan will soon not only maintain their vibrant culture which has lasted for centuries, but also allows and encourages the full participation of all men and women in government and society.
Congressman Joe Pitts represents the 16th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.