Sixteen years ago, the United States initiated combat operations in Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Goals have changed marginally over the years, but they typically include defeating al Qaeda and other terrorist groups with global reach, strengthening the Afghan government and security forces to prevent the Taliban from retaking political power, and denying terrorists a safe haven. Recently, the secretary of defense noted, “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now.” The United States appears set to respond with a nominal troop surge, but both the strategy and the U.S. commitment appear uncertain.
Can a mini-surge reasonably achieve these or lesser goals? What costs and benefits are associated with a modest surge or the other potential policy choices, such as a negotiated settlement or completely removing U.S. military forces? What evidence do the past 16 years offer in support of the various strategies? How will Afghanistan look in another 16 years?