Can the U.S. Win the War in Afghanistan?
For the past 16 years, American leaders have been flummoxed by the war in Afghanistan. For nearly two decades, Afghanistan has been a battleground for the Taliban and other terrorist groups, a weak central government, provincial warlords, and American troops. India and Pakistan have also used the country as a proxy battleground for power and influence in the region.
On Monday, President Donald Trump issued a brazen call to end the seemingly intractable conflict: “we will win,” he promised. But what, exactly, does winning a never-ending war look like?
In his speech on Monday at an army base in Ft. Myer, Virginia, Trump articulated America’s end goal in Afghanistan:
“From now on, victory will have a clear definition,” the president said. “Attacking our enemies, obliterating [Islamic State], crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
But the 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, the longest military operation in America’s history, does not have a clear closing act. Currently, about 8,400 U.S. troops remain in the country, down from a peak of 100,000 under the Obama Administration. Most of the remaining troops train and advise the Afghan army. A couple thousand are engaged in combat operations against an ISIS affiliate and other terrorist organizations.
Trump, in his speech and earlier this summer, has said his administration will deploy up to 4,000 more U.S. troops to the war-torn nation. One general said additional troops will be sent to Afghanistan over the coming weeks and months. In the end, Trump’s goal is to strike a deal with the Taliban, a militant group that controlled the country in the 1990s, and has recently enjoyed a number of battlefield victories.
But peace with the Taliban–and stability in Afghanistan, which has a corrupt and barely-functioning government–is no easy feat. Some observers see it as an impossibility.
“Sixteen years and the lives of over 2,000 American heroes are more than enough of a price to have paid to eradicate a terrorist sanctuary,” Ohio Governor John Kasich said in response to Trump’s speech. “America cannot afford to make an open-ended commitment of further lives and treasure to the improbable proposition of building a cohesive nation in Afghanistan.”
In addition to Trump’s speech, generals on the ground in Afghanistan outlined a recipe for success: “This new strategy means the Taliban cannot win militarily,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson, the Army’s top commander in Afghanistan. “Now is the time to renounce violence and reconcile. A peaceful, stable Afghanistan is victory for the Afghan people and the goal of the coalition.”