Since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001, three successive presidential administrations have claimed that the Taliban are on the verge of collapse, the Afghan military is close to securing the country, and Afghan leaders in Kabul are just one step away from providing legitimate governance.
After 17 years on a treadmill, obviously no good option exists. But to pull out our troops would be to repeat Saigon in 1975. The consequences to America’s credibility would be crushing. Unlike in the Vietnam case, no domestic political movement is dedicated to insuring a total, humiliating withdrawal. Conversely, no American power center, bureaucratic or political, is lobbying to increase our force numbers.
The situation in Afghanistan is frustrating and even enraging. Despite the death of more than 2,400 U.S. military personnel and the expenditure of billions, even trillions, of dollars over the past 16 years, the Taliban are as much of a threat as ever. They are well-funded—the United Nations estimates that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan set a new record in 2017—and they have cross-border support from Pakistan, which has no intention of cutting them off despite the Trump administration’s cut-off of security assistance.