Anti-Iraq war veterans group formalizes opposition to Afghan war
Stars and Stripes August 23, 2009
With the U.S. military presence in Iraq expected to end by 2011, an organization of current and former servicemembers opposed to the war there is widening its mandate to include Afghanistan.
At its annual convention in College Park, Md., earlier this month, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War vigorously debated what the group’s stance should be on Afghanistan, according to some participants. Opposition to the war quietly became official policy earlier this year following an online membership poll. The vote was said to be close, though no details were publicly released.
"A decision has been made in terms of our position, which is we are against it," said Jose Vasquez, executive director of IVAW and co-founder of the New York City chapter.
With that, leaders are "working out the way forward."
Since its founding in 2004, the IVAW has focused almost exclusively on Iraq, though members have been free to speak out for or against the war in Afghanistan. The organization, which has a national office in Philadelphia, estimates its membership to be at least 1,700, with roughly one-quarter of its members still in uniform. Most members, active duty or not, have not deployed to Afghanistan, said Devon Read, a former Marine who wrote and introduced the resolution at the convention.
As is the case with Iraq, the existing IVAW resolution advocates "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and support (for) all troops and veterans working toward those ends."
Additionally, the IVAW supports full benefits and adequate health care for all servicemembers returning from Afghanistan or Iraq.
For now, the effort to develop a strategic approach to opposing the war in Afghanistan is being addressed at the local level. Among the most active on this front is the Los Angeles chapter, which Read heads. The L.A. chapter sponsors forums at which clips of a new documentary, "Rethink Afghanistan," are aired and discussed.
The meetings are intended to generate public and political support for IVAW’s position, which is that the continued presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is hurting, not helping matters.
"Chapters are trying to figure out where they want to go with this," Vasquez said. He added that IVAW members "don’t think Iraq was a good idea, and some of us think Afghanistan isn’t either."
One of the members who supports the war in Afghanistan is Army Sgt. Selena Coppa, an active-duty military intelligence specialist based at Wiesbaden, Germany.
"The organization is kind of split on that," Coppa said.
At times, she added, the issue of whether to oppose the war in Afghanistan "ran the risk of tearing us apart. IVAW is like a family. You don’t want members leaving."
Vasquez said many members, such as Coppa, "view Afghanistan as the good war," based largely on its role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The notion of also opposing that war "met with a lot of debate," he said.
The strategy for the time being is to leave the issue to local chapters to sort out, and then possibly bring it up at next year’s convention. While there has been talk of amending the organization’s name to reflect its opposition to the Afghanistan campaign, that isn’t likely to happen soon.
Read, who initially backed the war in Afghanistan, characterized his endorsement as "blind support," a view that has changed over the past year.
"To me," Read said, "it feels like we are creating more enemies."