Years of sacrifice paying off in Afghanistan

The News TribuneApril 8, 2014 

We don’t yet know who won Saturday’s elections in Afghanistan, but we do know who lost it: the Taliban.

Something like democracy is clearly sticking in Afghanistan, and a share of the credit belongs to troops who’ve deployed there from Joint Base Lewis McChord.

The elections amounted to a devastating national repudiation of the religious extremists who’ve been trying to shoot their way back to power since they were deposed shortly after 9/11.

Taliban leaders had threatened to murder any Afghans who dared cast ballots. In the weeks leading up to the election, the insurgents had carried out a series of bombings and suicide attacks designed to scare people from the polls.

But Saturday was a nightmare for them.

Voters turned out in overwhelming numbers, forcing the government to keep polls open late and rush ballots to stations that had run out of them. Afghans were voting in many areas dominated by the insurgents in the 2009 presidential election.

Of Afghanistan’s roughly 12 million eligible voters, an estimated seven million showed up, having made a deliberate decision to defy the jihadists.

There was scattered violence, but nothing like the mass slaughter the Taliban had threatened. Long lines of voters and crowded campaign rallies were inviting targets, but the massacres didn’t materialize.

Security was provided by the military — the Afghan military trained by American and NATO forces. American and allied troops had the luxury of standing down and watching Afghan forces — once a ragtag, unreliable lot — protect their own democracy.

It was no coincidence that not a single American soldier had been killed in the entire country through the month of March. To all appearances, Afghanistan’s security forces are holding their own against the Taliban.

America’s chief national interest in Afghanistan has been to prevent it from relapsing into a safe haven for terrorists — as it had been under the Taliban — from which the likes of al-Qaida could stage attacks elsewhere in the world.

The insurgents’ sheer tenacity — give them credit for that — has made this a long slog. The training of Afghan troops has been slow, complicated and often dangerous. More than 2,300 American personnel, many from JBLM, have lost their lives in the effort to buy the Afghans enough time to create a stable government.

Saturday’s elections don’t mark the final defeat of the Taliban, but they did show that the insurgents’ influence is fading — and that the vast majority of the Afghan people want them gone for good.

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