American Proscenium

The Afghan Quagmire

Within weeks of September 11, the United States launched military operations in Afghanistan in order to remove the Taliban regime and deny Islamic-terrorist networks a key base of operations.  In subsequent years, as the focus of the Bush administration moved to Iraq, the Afghan operation was relegated to the neglected “other war.”  Its initial objective—ostensibly limited and attainable—had morphed into an exercise in nation-building underpinned by grossly wasteful development programs.

By the end of George W. Bush’s second term, the situation on the ground had settled into a stalemate.  The Taliban were able to reestablish their more or less permanent presence in the majority-Pashtun rural areas in the south; the “allies” held the cities and kept the main roads open; Hamid Karzai and his corrupt cronies pretended to be a real government, while repeating the mantra of “Afghan leadership, Afghan ownership.”

The Obama administration decided to give Afghanistan higher priority, however.  Iraq was to be treated as “Bush’s war” and eventually terminated on terms far from satisfactory.  Starting in early 2009, the U.S. government committed significant additional financial and military resources to Afghanistan.  By early last year, key civilian officials and officers—such as the former...

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