- - Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The war on terrorism turned into a forever war.

Nearly twenty years after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to avenge the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001, the U.S. faces a May 1 deadline to withdraw its final 2,500 troops. Twice as many allied NATO troops than U.S. forces remain in Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls most of the country outside urban areas.

Although a peace agreement reached last year calls for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in less than three months’ time, the Biden administration is weighing the option of extending the deadline because the Taliban have made dramatic gains on the battlefield and are preparing for a violent spring.

As long-sought peace and stability remain elusive after two decades of conflict, President Biden faces the first critical foreign policy decision of his new administration. Ending U.S. involvement in the country’s longest — and undeclared — war could hinge on whether Mr. Biden is willing to admit, at least privately, what the three prior presidential administrations refused to concede, according to Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, in an interview for the latest episode of ‘History As It Happens’ podcast.

“There isn’t an acceptance in Washington that we’ve lost the war,” said Weinstein, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as a U.S. Marine near the end of then-President Obama’s troop surge. “The reason there isn’t an acceptance is because it’s a different kind of war.”

What Weinstein means is, the Taliban do not have to defeat U.S. and coalition forces to prevail. Instead, they must continue to hold out against American air superiority while pummeling Afghan security forces, who still struggle to win in combat against Taliban fighters despite two decades of and billions of dollars in U.S. training.

For his part, Mr. Biden argued for a very small military footprint in Afghanistan when he served as Mr. Obama’s vice president. But now that he is commander-in-chief, it remains unclear whether Mr. Biden will risk losing major Afghan cities to Taliban forces — a possible scenario should the U.S. abide by the May 1 withdrawal deadline.

But after twenty years of failed military strategies and nation-building, Weinstein contends a military solution to Afghanistan’s troubles is simply out of reach.

“We don’t have a clear objective in Afghanistan. Even if you take for granted all the ever-changing objectives for remaining in Afghanistan, we don’t have the ability to shape those outcomes. For example, people will say we need to stay until the Afghan security forces can stand on their own. But they’ve become so dependent on the United States’ military, those two goals are in conflict with each other,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein says each new military commander or presidential administration over the past 20 years treated Afghanistan as an ‘Etch A Sketch’ as if the war could receive a clean slate.

“The U.S. has tried a lot of different policies. They’ve tried to win the direct military firefight and that didn’t work,” said Weinstein, who said efforts at reaching a lasting political settlement at the negotiating table are also likely to fail because the Taliban insurgency maintains significant strength.

For more on the Quincy Institute’s Adam Weinstein’s thoughts on the forever war in Afghanistan, as well as The Washington Times’ national security reporter Guy Taylor explaining the Biden administration’s options, listen to this episode of ‘History As It Happens.’

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