By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Area troops heading for Afghanistan, as US pulls back
Sardis Enrichment School second-grader Jacob Hinesley stacks completed pillowcases that will be sent to troops in Afghanistan. - photo by Tom Reed

As President Barack Obama was announcing last month the U.S. would step up troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, Sgt. Daniel Bowers was packing his bags for a second deployment there.

Bowers, part of the Georgia National Guard’s 214th Field Artillery Battalion, based in Elbert County, left Tuesday for nine months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., before beginning a nine-month tour in the war-weary country.

“It’s been a long 11 years” of American involvement in the country, said his wife, Nicole, a Hall County native living in Buford. “It’ll be exciting the day we completely pull out of there.”

Obama said in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address that 34,000 of 66,000 troops now stationed in the country would be withdrawn by the end of the year.

“This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” he told Congress.

This spring, U.S. forces “will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead,” Obama said.

“The call for speed-up is not surprising,” said Craig Greathouse, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus.

The U.S. has invested about $500 billion into Afghanistan since the military entered the country in 2002, he noted.

“When you’re talking that kind of money for a decade-plus, combining that with the (2007-09) recession, that’s not really healthy in terms of continuing to go forward,” Greathouse said.

“But it’s also a political decision. The level of support was fairly high in 2002,” he added. “If you look at (poll) numbers now, they’re not really high.”

So, continuing an expensive war in tough economic times “is hard to sell” to Americans.

Duane Jones — an East Hall resident whose son, Lt. Jason Jones of the National Guard’s Augusta-based 878th Engineer Battalion, is training for deployment — said he is “very glad we’re getting out of Afghanistan.

“I’ve never thought that we should be nation building or anything like that. ... Once we got (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden and put the Taliban back on its heels, I think we should have just pulled out.”

Nicole Bowers, a 2005 graduate of Chestatee High School in northwest Hall, said she is hopeful for an early troop withdrawal, but “you learn with the Army to never get your hopes up. It’s a believe-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing.”

And the months she and her husband are apart due to his military service are difficult.

“Even though this is his second deployment, it never gets easier,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s because we have (10-month-old son) Grant this time, but you always think to yourself they’re going to come home safely.

“But for any military wife, it’s in the back of your head that something can happen,” Nicole said.

Daniel Bowers’ group will help keep security at an Air Force base where the American military “will teach the Afghan Army how to fly airplanes” and to be able to function on its own, she said.

Her nephew’s third-grade teacher at Sardis Enrichment School in northwest Hall is decorating pillowcases for the 250 men and women in her husband’s unit.

She is helping with the effort, bringing snacks for the students.

“Hopefully, it will remind (the soldiers) of what’s back at home — that’s what we hope, that it at least puts a smile on their face,” said Nicole, who was at the school Wednesday.

Jones said he and his wife, Julie, have mixed emotions about their son’s deployment.

“We’re very, very proud of him. He’s smart and knows about everything,” he said. “But we were a little bit apprehensive about him going to Afghanistan, especially when we thought it was going to be winding down.”

Obama said in his speech that beyond 2014, “America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change.”

America is negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on “training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al-Qaida and their affiliates,” he said.

Asked for his outlook in Afghanistan, “it’s 50-50 and pick ’em,” Greathouse said.

“From what I am seeing, the U.S. and NATO are going to retain some training capability within Afghanistan, even after most of the troops leave,” he said.

The problem is Afghanistan is “in a very tough economic situation,” Greathouse said. “It relies on international donors to provide enough resources for it to continue to function.”

Greathouse said he believes U.S. involvement in future conflicts — and the world has its hot spots, such as Iran, Syria and North Korea — “will depend on what the situation is.

“The U.S. is willing to use force, but national interests come into play. (The focus will be on) where does it make sense for us to use force?”