WASHINGTON, Oct 27 – A diplomat disillusioned with US involvement in Afghanistan has become the first US official known to have resigned in protest over the eight-year war, The Washington Post said on Tuesday.
Matthew Hoh, 36, was the senior State Department official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, a hotbed for Taliban militants, until he resigned last month.
His background in both civil and military fields may have seemed the perfect fit for President Barack Obama’s administration as it steps up its counterinsurgency efforts in the war-torn country.
But in a September 10 letter to the State Department’s personnel chief, Hoh wrote: "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan.
"I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end," added the former Marine Corps captain, according to comments carried by the Post.
The resignation, the newspaper said, "sent ripples all the way to the White House," and government officials scrambled to convince Hoh to stay, concerned that he could become a prominent critic of the fledgling administration’s Afghanistan policy.
Hoh was offered a senior staff-level job at the US embassy in Kabul, which he turned down, and was flown to Washington to meet one-on-one with the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview with the daily.
Holbrooke initially convinced Hoh – who had also served in uniform at the Pentagon and as a civilian in Iraq – that by remaining in government, he could more effectively change US policy in Afghanistan.
But the diplomat changed his mind a week later and again tended his resignation, which became final on Wednesday.
Staying on "wasn’t the right thing to do," he told the Post.
As Obama weighs a decision to potentially dispatch tens of thousands more US troops to the Afghanistan cauldron, Hoh said he decided to speak out to influence public opinion.
"I’m not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," he said. "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, ‘Listen, I don’t think this is right.’"
Hoh, a former Marine who fought in Iraq, wrote in his letter that many Afghans take up arms against US forces because of their presence in the country, and Washington’s backing of the national government that is widely seen as corrupt.
If readying to stay in the country, Hoh called for a reduction in US troop numbers. He also urged more support for neighbouring Pakistan in its fight against extremist elements, and increased pressure on Kabul to rid corruption in government.
"We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," Hoh told the Post. "But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve."
In his resignation letter – posted online at washingtonpost.com – Hoh noted that next year "the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan.
"Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people," he wrote.