Four Ways Forward in Afghanistan

What the United States Could Do With More Troops

A U.S. soldier shielding himself from the rotor wash of a helicopter near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, December 2014. Lucas Jackson / REUTERS

After a five-month-long interagency review process, senior officials have recommended that U.S. President Donald Trump send several thousand more troops to Afghanistan. The request is in line with proposals from General John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and makes the consensus recommendation of about 3,000-5,000 more troops. But troop increases alone do not a strategy make. Scholars as varied as Stephen Walt and Michael O’Hanlon have argued that, to arrest rapid deterioration on the ground, the United States needs to situate the troops in a coherent strategy.

At present, at least four plausible strategies can be distilled: state building, reconciliation, containment, and basing. Each strategy contains distinct goals, its own theory of victory, and unique costs and risks. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations muddled or vacillated among all four options, which generated incoherence and sometimes worked at cross-purposes. The Trump administration must

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