The War in Afghanistan infamously entered its eighteenth year this past September. The reality of the situation on the ground, however, is remarkably similar to that of 2001. Yes, the Taliban regime “fell” - and yet, insurgent terrorism is a persistent threat. The Afghan government remains incredibly unstable and the quality of life for average Afghan citizens has risen only marginally. Remarkably, the Taliban is also legitimate to the extent that Trump’s administration engaged in (failed) diplomatic negotiations with their representatives for months in 2019.
How did eighteen years of active American military force in Afghanistan result in such a stubborn predicament? A clear answer has yet to be defined, but the ineffectual employment of US forces certainly contributed to current problems. According to papers released by the Washington Post in late 2019, US forces distorted the truth for years about a war that had become unwinnable due to the fundamental dysfunction of US forces in the conflict.
Unintentional testament by officials quoted in the “Afghanistan Papers” depicts a military at once wholly aware of their shortcomings and entirely unable to rectify them. Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general, stated in 2015 that “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.” Three presidents presiding over the conflict – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump – have been unable to deliver on promises to eradicate terrorism and establish a stable democracy. U.S. officials acknowledged their warfighting strategies to be fatally flawed. They further stated that “Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.”
The question facing government officials and the public now poses an intractable dilemma: withdrawal could enable further organized terrorist activity, but the possibility of remaining in the region indefinitely incurs increasing public ire. In both cases, Americans face a degree of failure atypical for US forces, directly resulting from an incoherent policy and failure of US forces to effectively eradiate the Taliban and other insurgent influences.