What you do not hear on the news reports coming out of Afghanistan is the number of children in school in that country and how dramatic the change has been since we showed up.
According to Greg Mortenson -- co-founder and director of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, founder of the educational charity Pennies for Peace and co-author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller "Three Cups of Tea: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan" -- when we arrived in the country nine years ago, there were 700,000 boys in school. No females were allowed. Today, there are more than 9 million children in school, and one-third of them are girls and young women.
The people of Afghanistan are most interested in two things. They want peace, and they want education for their children -- just like people everywhere. This would not be happening and would never be allowed to continue under the Taliban. These children, growing up now, are educated. Reading and writing are the future of Afghanistan! What would it say about America if we left now? How many people who have supported this education movement would be regarded as enemies of the Taliban and thereby lose their lives? What kind of message would this send to the world about American commitment? How would we deal with it in ourselves -- in our own hearts?
These schools only exist in the parts of the country that are protected by American and NATO troops -- troops that are working with local leaders and the Afghan police. In some parts of the country, we have had to withdraw for various reasons. However, that is not true for most other parts of the country, where we have support from the local population.
In Vietnam, more than 50,000 Americans lost their lives, but the Vietnamese lost several times that number after we pulled out. There are big differences between Afghanistan and Vietnam.
We were in Vietnam because of the "domino theory" of Communist domination of the world. This theory turned out not to be true. Today, Vietnam supplies many goods in our local stores. Some businesses are leaving China to take their manufacturing to Vietnam. It is one thing to be fighting a war over some political theory; it is another thing to be fighting a war because you have been attacked, as we were on 9/11. Another big difference is the fact that in Vietnam, we had practically no support from other nations, whereas in Afghanistan, the NATO countries support us.
For these reasons, I believe we must stay and fight in Afghanistan. Not only would we be walking out on our commitments to millions of Afghans and their children in the schools, but by leaving, the Taliban would have won and would attack us again.
by leaving, the Taliban would have won and would attack us again.
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