Baz Ratner / Reuters A U.S. soldier points his rifle at a doorway after coming under fire from the Taliban while on patrol in Zharay district in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, April 26, 2012.

Trump's Surge in Afghanistan

Why We Can't Seem to End the War

There is no end in sight to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which, as it enters its 16th year, is the longest conflict in U.S. history. Americans have increasingly questioned the war’s value, and before he became president, Donald Trump was among them, criticizing the country’s continued involvement in Afghanistan. In 2013, he tweeted, “Let’s get out!,” citing the “waste of blood and treasure.” During the election campaign, he routinely promised not to involve the United States in wars that it could not win. But as president, Trump has reversed course, following instead the path of his predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In August, Trump approved the deployment of several thousand more troops to Afghanistan, adding to the 8,500 already stationed in-country. “With our resolve, we will ensure that your service and that your family’s will bring about the defeat of our enemies and the arrival of peace,” he said. “We will push onward to victory with power in our hearts, courage in our souls, and everlasting pride in each and every one of you.”

There is, of course, no assurance of peace, at least not of the sort Trump has envisioned. Victory is simply not in the cards. The reality is that the United States is best off keeping a residual force in Afghanistan—but not escalating, as Trump plans to do. The small, on-the-ground force should focus on counterterrorism and on training the Afghan military. Such efforts will not stop the Taliban from gaining de facto control over much of the country, but they will manage to keep terrorist groups weak and help the Afghan government avoid total defeat.

FEAR AND FUTILITY

In the debate about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, those who are pro-involvement tend to prioritize the future risk of not doing anything while those against involvement focus on the considerable cost of past U.S. engagement and the seeming futility of the situation. Fear of terrorism is the primary warned, “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS [the Islamic State] and al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11.”

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