Every day, 15,000 U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan fight Washington’s longest war. In 2018, their mission will cost Americans $45 billion in defense spending alone, almost enough to build U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico twice. Trump, who had campaigned on getting the United States out of Afghanistan, was well positioned to change course. Instead, he sent more troops to pursue a military victory that will never come.
U.S. leaders suffer from strategic paralysis over this war. In 16 long years of fighting, Washington’s core aims have not changed: to disrupt and degrade terrorist groups and to prevent them from rebuilding an unchallenged sanctuary in the region. The method to pursue these objectives has also been constant: direct military action against extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with aid to both countries to build their security and governance capacity. Yet under three U.S. presidents, at every level of effort, the outcome has been a military stalemate. As of late February, maintaining this stalemate had claimed the lives of almost 2,300 American service members and cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.
The Afghan people are better off than they were in 2001. Yet Afghanistan and Pakistan remain hotbeds of extremism. Sanctuary persists for terrorist groups such al Qaeda and the Islamic State (or ISIS), and the Taliban remain an organized force with local backing and foreign support from Pakistan. Trump’s open-ended plan of more military pressure and tougher rhetoric against Pakistan will not achieve U.S. aims. Rather than continue down the same failed path, the United States should be actively pursuing a negotiated end to the war. Most U.S. officials claim that successful talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups are unlikely, but in truth, Washington has never tried backing a serious peace process with the full weight of its military, intelligence, and economic resources. There’s good reason to think that a full-court press for peace can work. It represents Trump’s best
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