Matthew Hoh: new poster boy for critics of Afghanistan war

Matthew Hoh, a former Marine officer, resigned from his current State Department post in Afghanistan, saying he no longer believes the war is worth American lives.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Matthew Hoh, perhaps unintentionally and unavoidably, has instantly made himself the poster boy for Vice President Joe Biden, liberal Democrats, and every American who looks at a troop surge in Afghanistan with deep skepticism.

Mr. Hoh, a respected retired marine captain, resigned his post as a Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan last week, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The reason: "I fail to see the value or the worth in continued US casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war," he said in his resignation letter.

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Hoh is perhaps the highest profile official with a military background to question the wisdom of the war in Afghanistan. With President Obama nearing a decision on a new Afghan strategy, Hoh's words come at a crucial time.

So far, the US military has spoken with resounding unanimity. Overwhelmingly, generals have backed the prescription of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal says American security would be best served by sending 44,000 more troops to stabilize Afghanistan.

Though Hoh makes pains to underscore the difficulty of his decision, he has chosen to respectfully – and publicly – disagree.

He is already scheduled to meet with the foreign policy adviser for Mr. Biden – the most vocal proponent of a more limited military presence in Afghanistan. Biden advocates a "counterterrorism" strategy that relies more on Predator drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets – a strategy that has shown some success in Pakistan's tribal territories. McChrystal pointedly dismissed such an idea.

But Hoh now gives this argument a degree of military credibility. Hoh says that the was is not truly a pan-Afghan insurgency, but rather a hundred different wars with variables unique to each valley. In many cases, "holy war" is virtually a cottage industry for local power-brokers – and the US is merely providing a convenient enemy.

Moreover, he echoes a key Obama administration concern: Corruption in the Afghan government makes it an unreliable partner.

In his letter, he calls Afghan President Hamid Karzai "a president whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts."

The report comes on the heels of Sen. John Kerry's comments Monday that McChrystal's plan "reaches too far, too fast."

Senator Kerry has emerged as one of Mr. Obama's key point men on Afghanistan. It was Kerry who was in Afghanistan to persuade Mr. Karzai to accept a Nov. 7 runoff after investigations found massive fraud in his favor.

Kerry said three conditions must be met before Afghanistan would be ready for a troop surge: more capable Afghan troops, less corruption, and enough development capacity to build upon military gains.

Now, Democrats in Congress have another voice suggesting that Afghanistan is not worth American blood and treasure. Hoh tells the Post that the US should decrease its combat forces in Afghanistan, if not remove them entirely.

Hoh's military credentials are impressive. He served twice in Iraq with distinction, mastering the difficult tasks that today's insurgencies demand of warriors – knowing when to fight and when to act as scholars, peace-brokers, or aid workers to rebuild shattered communities, according to the Post account.

After leaving the Marines as a captain, he became a Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan's Zabul Province – a wild and forbidding land near the epicenter of the Afghan insurgency.

There, he became convinced that the US presence merely provided "an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."

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