An Afghan boy plays on a merry-go-round on a hill top in Kabul, July 20, 2015.
Ahmad Masood / Reuters

For one and a half decades, the United States and its partners in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have waged a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. And, year after year, the Taliban has staved off defeat. One assumption in U.S. policy has been an unwavering faith that the United States can ultimately force an acceptable outcome in Afghanistan. Early in the conflict, the country sought outright defeat of the Taliban. Later, as the feasibility of that objective was called into question, it embraced a more modest goal of leaving Afghanistan with a security force of its own, capable of defending the country against the Taliban. The objectives may have changed, but accompanying troop extensions have anchored the United States’ commitment to its ambitions. Following that pattern, in July of this year, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the latest troop extension, guaranteeing that the next U.S.

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  • ANDREW SHAVER is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a research fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served previously as a Pentagon analyst and foreign affairs fellow with the U.S. Senate.
  • JOSHUA MADRIGAL studied national security law at Harvard University.
  • The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.
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