After a decade of fighting in Afghanistan, at tremendous cost in American blood and treasure, many Americans are now asking: Why are we there? What do we have to show for our efforts? The answers are troubling: A government, under President Hamid Karzai, that is corrupt, largely incompetent, and of questionable loyalty; inept Afghan security forces that regularly turn their weapons on their American and NATO advisers; and a resurgent Taliban poised to regain control of the country after U.S. forces withdraw. Many look at these facts and conclude that the U.S. can’t win in Afghanistan and should therefore get out. But few have examined the dire consequences of losing.
What would it mean to lose in Afghanistan? The U.S. invaded the country in 2001 with the stated objective of vanquishing al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harbored it. When we finally withdraw all forces in 2014, the Taliban influence in Afghanistan is likely to be substantial, if not paramount. Should the Taliban retake much of Afghanistan, whether we label our withdrawal a defeat or call it something more appetizing (a draw, for example) is immaterial: Our enemies will view this as an American defeat, and learn lessons that will bode ill for our future.
The Soviet Union did not acknowledge defeat in Afghanistan in the war that spanned much of the 1980s. Yet the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 rallied tens of thousands of militant Islamists to the cause of jihad, and gave birth to al-Qaeda and a new generation of emboldened international Islamic terrorists that quickly trained their sights on America and the West. The first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City took place only four years later. Why should we expect a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, amid failure to establish security there, to yield a better result? Leaving Afghanistan with a resurgent Taliban poised to retake control of much of the country will only empower and embolden America’s enemies, like Iran, and all but ensure that America will have to fight very costly and potentially far deadlier wars.
Many say that the American people, after ten years, are tired of the war in Afghanistan. But I believe Americans — and certainly the U.S. military — are tired of not winning. The U.S. is in dire need of a serious shift in strategy — from one that props up a corrupt and incompetent Afghan government and simply trains and equips its security forces, to one that smashes our enemies, the Taliban and al-Qaeda. America must allow U.S. combat forces, now largely restricted to defensive actions, to take the offensive, rout the enemy from safe havens in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas, radically reduce the Taliban’s military capability, and then declare victory (which, be it noted, President Obama failed to do in Iraq) and bring our troops home.