There is a case for a deliberate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Afghan government remains divided and weak, its security forces will take years of expensive U.S. and allied support to become fully effective, and they may still lose even with such support. Afghanistan is no more likely to become a future center of terrorist attacks outside its borders than many other weak and unstable countries.
Both Afghanistan and a troublesome Pakistan have only marginal strategic interest to the U.S. relative to many other areas where the U.S. can use its resources. Moreover, leaving the region places the security and aid burden on Russia, China, and local states—forcing the countries that do have major strategic interests in the region to take on the burden or live with the consequences.
The U.S. should not stay in Afghanistan without considering these risks and liabilities, or out of sheer strategic momentum. But, it should also not let the situation steadily deteriorate and lose the wear by negligence and default. There is a case for continuing military assistance and there may be a case for action on the civil side if the State Department and USAID are pressed hard to address it. Pakistan may remain problematic, but it may well not be so much of a problem that some form of victory is not possible.
The Trump Administration should evaluate the merits of a prolonged commitment in detail, make any commitment clearly conditional and set clear requirement for Afghan action. It should consult with Congress, seek a clear legislative mandate for staying if it decides this is the proper course, and openly and transparently explain its decisions to the American people. But, it cannot simply sit and wait, take token action, and issue more empty words without losing the war.
The Military Side of Strategy
The military side of strategy is the most urgent. So far, the Trump Administration has talked vaguely about possible measures to support Afghanistan and increasing the train and assist and combat support missions by 3,000 to 5,000 troops.
However, the Administration has made no decisions about creating a credible presence in Afghanistan and has not defined any clear strategy or plans for actually trying to win the war. It is doing just what it should not do. It is letting the situation steadily deteriorate and is losing by negligence and default. (end of excerpt)
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