With the debate over what to do in Afghanistan in full bloom, leaders of one antiwar group returned from Kabul offering this advice: Don't send more troops. But don't pull out precipitously, either.
Medea Benjamin, a founder of the group, Code Pink <http://www.codepinkalert.org/> , said in an interview on Friday that most of the 150 Afghans she and seven colleagues had met with told them, “We're afraid of the Taliban coming back in, we're afraid of more civil war, we're afraid of more chaos.”
“They talked about responsible withdrawal,” Ms. Benjamin said.
Matthew Cavanaugh/European Pressphoto Agency Medea Benjamin of Code Pink interrupts Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, during his remarks to a joint meeting of Congress in July 2006.
But those same people also made clear that they considered NATO troops magnets for violence whose presence incited anti-foreign sentiment and encouraged impoverished villagers to pick up weapons for the insurgency.
“Everybody we talked to said that most of the Taliban are poor rural people, $10-a-day Taliban, who are doing this for economic reasons,” she said. “If you want to encourage people to stop fighting, encourage them to work.”
A Christian Science Monitor article <http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1006/p06s10-wosc.html> about the Code Pink trip, which described Ms. Benjamin as rethinking her views, caused a buzz in antiwar circles <http://original.antiwar.com/scott/2009/10/07/is-medea-benjamin-confused/> , with some antiwar bloggers wondering whether Code Pink had become “pro-war.”
Ms. Benjamin sharply disputed the notion that her views of the war had changed. But she acknowledged that the nearly two-week trip had given the group “a lot more depth of understanding” about the complexity of the war and the depth of Afghanistan's needs.
She said the group would continue to support legislation in Congress requiring the Obama administration to come up with an exit strategy. She said they would also push for peace talks with elements of the Taliban, with women at the table, and for increased economic aid to the country.
And she said she planned to meet with leaders of women's organizations that support the American military mission in Afghanistan to make the case that the presence of American troops was not making life better for Afghan women.
She added, however, that she did not expect “bold action” by Congress. “So many Democrats in Congress don't want to be against what Barack Obama calls for,” she said. “Especially now that he has won the Nobel Peace Prize.”