...And the Taliban are in their strongest position in just that many years.
America has now passed the 17-year mark in Afghanistan. U.S. troops have been fighting there for longer than the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. Yet Washington is further away than ever from anything that might pass for victory.
And for what?
After so many years of senseless combat, Erik Prince’s proposal to turn the conflict over to contractors almost sounds reasonable. His lobbying efforts in Kabul have not been notably successful, but some day American personnel will come home. And then Washington’s friends in Afghanistan will find themselves on their own.
Seventeen years ago the Bush administration was forced to act. After the 9/11 attacks, it was imperative to disrupt if not destroy al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban regime for hosting terrorist training camps. Washington quickly succeeded: al-Qaeda was degraded and dispersed, the Taliban was overthrown and punished. Washington should have left as quickly as it came. But the Bush administration had other hopes: to create a friendly, liberal, democratic state in Central Asia.
If there was ever a chance to establish a stable regime in Kabul, it was right after the Taliban’s ouster. However, the Bush administration immediately turned to Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. That shift allowed for a Taliban revival. Even after twice increasing force levels—which peaked at 110,000 U.S. and 30,000 allied troops in 2011—the Obama administration was only able to limit the insurgency’s reach. Around that time I twice visited Afghanistan, and found that private, off-the-record opinions of allied military personnel, civilian contractors, and Afghan officials were uniformly pessimistic.