The War in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?

April 9, 2013

The December 2001 Bonn Agreement proclaimed the international community’s determination to “end the tragic conflict in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights in the country.” Over a decade later, while access to health care and education has improved, the central government in Kabul remains corrupt and incapable of exerting control over its territory, the Afghan security forces are rife with criminality and internal divisions, and the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent forces still threaten the country. The mission to build an effective Afghan state and eradicate indigenous militants has resulted in a costly, time-intensive, and troop-heavy campaign, even though the United States accomplished the limited goal of incapacitating al Qaeda and punishing the Taliban only months after 9/11.

What went wrong? In autumn 2001 what could U.S. policymakers have done differently? Years later, in spring 2009, was an Iraq-like surge the right option? Should U.S. officials have ever oriented the mission around grand promises of civilian reconstruction and long-term development assistance? Could the United States have met the limited objective of disrupting al Qaeda without a broader nation-building presence? In the future, if America is attacked and finds itself in a similar situation, how should it meet the threat without getting trapped?

The views expressed by Colonel Gentile here do not necessarily represent those of the United States government or the Department of Defense.

This interview was recorded shortly after the event, “The War in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?” at the Cato Institute April 5, 2013.


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