It’s Beyond Time To Get Out Of Afghanistan

American troops have been in Afghanistan for seventeen years now, it's time to bring them all home.

The U.S. led war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for seventeen years as of this past October, has mostly been out of the headlines recently, as has been the case for much of the time that the war has been going on. American troops are still there, though, and just recently three more of them were killed, leading some to wonder exactly why we’re still there:

GHAZNI, Afghanistan — American forces experienced the worst loss of life so far this year in Afghanistan when three soldiers were killed in a Taliban bombing on Tuesday. Three more soldiers and an American contractor were wounded.

The deaths took place when a roadside bomb went off near Ghazni City, in the southeastern province of the same name, killing Special Forces soldiers three months after they were sent to save that city from falling to the Taliban.

The Pentagon declared an end to American combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, but since that time, the Taliban have expanded their reach, and the Americans have rejoined the fray.

A witness said the bomb in Ghazni went off as an American convoy passed on the highway. “The convoy set off a roadside mine, and there was smoke all over the place,” said the witness, Haji Abdulamin, a local resident. “The road was blocked, and a few minutes later helicopters landed and took the dead.”

Regular American combat operations in Afghanistan came to an end in 2014, but since that time the Taliban have greatly expanded their reach, controlling more territory — and killing more Afghan soldiers and police — than at any time since they were ousted from power in 2001.

President Ashraf Ghani recently revealed that 28,529 Afghan security forces have been killed since 2015, a number that works out to an average of about 25 deaths per day.

In 2015, 10 American troops were killed; nine were killed in 2016; and 11 in 2017. In 2018 so far, 12 American soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan along with four other coalition soldiers.

President Trump, in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, said America is continuing its military presence in Afghanistan only because “experts” told him the United States needed to continue the fight.

Complicating things for the United States is the fact that not only are the Taliban proving hard to defeat, but al Qaeda is making a comeback too:

The Taliban is not the only concern for the American military. Another American soldier was killed just three days earlier as a result of a firefight with Al Qaeda, which had been considered all but wiped out in Afghanistan years ago, only to resurface suddenly in southwestern Nimroz Province.

The military said in a statement that the soldier, Sgt. Leandro A. S. Jasso, a 25-year-old Army Ranger from Washington State, was shot accidentally by a soldier from an Afghan “partner force.”

The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, expressed condolences to Sergeant Jasso’s family. “Sergeant Jasso was killed defending our nation, fighting Al Qaeda alongside our Afghan partners,” General Miller said.

According to the military’s statement on Sergeant Jasso’s death, he was killed “when the partnered force became engaged in a close-quarter battle during an assault on one of multiple barricaded Al Qaeda shooters.”

It was the first time in recent years that the presence of Al Qaeda was reported in that part of the country. Even officials from Nimroz Province seemed unaware of it. Gen. Abdul Raqib Mubariz, the police chief of that province, described the insurgents in the fight with the Americans as Taliban, and added that 22 militants were killed.

“It is not confirmed yet if they had any affiliation with Al Qaeda,” he said.

The Taliban insurgents maintain that they are no longer allied with remnants of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, although they were in the past. Al Qaeda’s numbers were believed to be very low, at least until recently, although insurgents from the separate Islamic State group have grown in numbers lately

Yesterday we learned that a fourth soldier who had been severely injured in the attack died as well:

WASHINGTON — A fourth Army soldier has died as a result of a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan last week, the Pentagon announced on Monday, marking the incident as the single largest loss of American life in the war since 2015.

Sgt. Jason M. McClary, 24, was in the armored vehicle that was hit by Taliban militants in Ghazni Province on Nov. 27. He died of his wounds in Landstuhl, Germany, on Sunday.

Two Defense Department officials said the attack was well coordinated. The bomb was manually detonated by a trigger man who targeted the American vehicle in the middle of the joint Afghan and American convoy.

The explosion flipped the soldiers’ mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, killing Army Capt. Andrew Patrick Ross, 29; Sgt. 1st Class Eric Michael Emond, 39; and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan J. Elchin, 25.

Two other soldiers and a civilian contractor were wounded.

Captain Ross, the leader of the detachment, and Sergeant Emond were Green Berets and part of 3rd Special Forces Group, a unit that was sent to Ghazni after its provincial capital was overrun by Taliban militants in August and then retaken by American and Afghan troops. Sergeant Elchin was responsible for coordinating airstrikes.

Officials said Sergeant McClary, originally assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, was a driver and turret gunner for the Green Beret unit, part of what the Pentagon calls the “uplift program,” where conventional troops are assigned to Special Operations units for more support.

Thirteen Americans have died in combat in Afghanistan this year, up from 11 in 2017. The last time more than four Americans were killed in combat in a single incident was in 2015, when six Americans on patrol outside Bagram Air Base, the largest NATO base in Afghanistan, were attacked by a suicide bomber.

Given the U.S.’s history in Afghanistan over the past seventeen years, none of this should be a surprise. What started as a war to retaliate against al Qaeda for the September 11th attacks and to kill or capture its leaders soon morphed into a war against the former Taliban government and, then, direct involvement in what became a civil war between the government in Kabul and the Taliban, who fought alongside tribes in the north that it was able to either bribe or compel to provide fighters. As the war settled into that pattern, it largely disappeared from the front pages of American news coverage, overtaken instead by reporting from Iraq, which was a much more active combat zone that was far easier for networks to get reporters into. That doesn’t mean the war ended, of course, it continued largely in the shadows and soon earned the title of “America’s forgotten war.”

By 2008, Barack Obama was campaigning on the twin promises of finally ending American involvement in Iraq and stabilizing a situation in Afghanistan that was quickly spinning out of control as the Taliban were able to push back against government forces that proved to be less than adequate. This led to the troop surge of the early part of Obama’s first term and, for a time at least, it appeared that things were finally starting to stabilize in the country to the point where we could start pulling troops out. While the U.S. did begin to bring troops home and, so far at least, has not returned to the troop levels we saw immediately after the surge, things didn’t exactly go well as time went on.

In 2014, President Obama announced an agreement with the Afghan government that would result in a gradual draw down of American forces and end to the war from the American point of view. , most if not all American troops would be out of the country by the end of 2016, with the possibility left open that a small training force would be left behind. Almost immediately, though, the Obama Administration began pushing back the pace of that withdrawal to the point that it soon became clear that the promise of an end to the war by the end of 2016 was not going to happen. As was the case with the gradual upgrade in American involvement in the war against ISIS, President Obama gradually began slowing down the pace of the American withdrawal and walking back previous promises that we would be direct involvement in the war.

Consider this timeline:

All of this fits a pattern that I predicted would unfold in All of this sounds all too close to a pattern I predicted would unfold:

At this rate, it seem inevitable that we’ll reach a point some time this year when the President will announce, no doubt with frequent use of the word “regretfully” or some similar word, that the previous commitment to remove most American troops by December 31st cannot be met. That announcement will likely come either early in the year or after the election so as to minimize the political impact, but it is the inevitable next step in all of the delays to withdrawal that the Administration has announced over the past fourteen months. More likely than not, the President will simply punt the matter into the future, perhaps by delaying the “official” withdrawal date for six months or so, thus leaving the matter for the next President to decide. All of this will occur contemporaneously with likely future increases in American commitments in Iraq and Syria related to the fight against ISIS, thus leaving quite a lot on the plate for the next President that could very well significantly distract them from being about to carry out any domestic agenda.

That was written in February 2016, and so far I’ve been proven correct. This latest report is an indication that America’s Longest War is going to last even longer, that it will still be going on when voters head to the polls in November 2020, and that it will likely last long after that.

Quite honestly, this seems like a strategy that is guaranteed to fail. Yes, it’s true that we have ongoing military commitments that have lasted far longer than our involvement in Afghanistan has, but that misses the point. American forces have been in Europe, principally Germany, and the United Kingdom, since the end of World War Two, for example, but they haven’t been involved in anything approaching active combat for seventy-two years now. The same goes for the American forces in Japan, although our bases there did serve in a support role during the Korean War and, to some extent, during the Vietnam War. We’ve had troops in South Korea since the armistice was signed in 1953, but again there hasn’t been anything approaching a combat situation there in sixty-four years. The same is true about commitments elsewhere in the world for the most part. American forces in Afghanistan, though, have been involved in combat in some form or another on a non-stop basis for sixteen years, and that doesn’t even count the activity that may have been engaged in by Special Forces or CIA assets during the Soviet occupation and the years leading up to the September 11th attacks. And it looks like this status will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Doesn’t there come a time when we just have to tell the Afghans that we can’t do this anymore and they’re going to have to learn to either resolve their differences through negotiation or handle this civil war on their own?

It seems obvious to me that the answer to that question is yes, and that the time to tell the Afghans that their future is in their own hands is now. Any more American or allied deaths in Afghanistan are utterly unnecessary casualties in a war we should have concluded years ago.

Stephen Green has similar comments at Vodkapundit:

We aren’t a colonial power, although colonialism is exactly what we’ve been trying to do in Afghanistan since 2002 — remake it in something like our image. Even worse, Afghanistan is not a colonizable country*. At least, not without wanton killing and destruction that would make Curtis LeMay blanch.

So it’s been time to leave for a long time already.

And if the Taliban comes back and welcomes in ISIS or al Qaeda? Well, what of it? In 2001 we showed how to topple a government there, on the cheap, in six weeks or less — or your next invasion is free!

And the “next invasion” wouldn’t have been a joke.

If necessary, we could have replayed something like the 2001 invasion a half-dozen times by now, for a fraction of what we’ve spent in blood and treasure on our haphazard and doomed attempt at semi-colonization.

Best of all, we wouldn’t have poured untold hundreds of billions of dollars into a corrupt and useless government — which only incentivizes more bad behavior. Why make peace, or even govern decently, when the other guy keeps giving you money not to?

A sane Afghan policy would have consisted of kicking in the door, killing a bunch of bad guys, and then skedaddling until and unless we have to do it again. Eventually, the Afghans would figure out this terrorist-harboring stuff doesn’t pay. What has paid for their elites, quite handsomely, is our perennial occupation.

All of this has been quite obvious for years now, of course, and yet we continue to pour resources and men into an occupation that is accomplishing absolutely nothing for us. As Green says, it’s time to pack our bags and go home.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, National Security, Policing, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Knauer says:

    Well, it’s long past time for a lot of things, such as prosecuting the torture lady for torture, for example. Pick any inane war declared by the U.S. on drugs, communism, AIDS, poverty, autism, “them illegals,” “them ter’rists,” and most recently, the free press.

    Voting does not seem to be any kind of useful remedy. There aren’t two sides; that whole red/blue divide thing is utterly false. The U.S. is hostage to an angry, evil by their acts minority.

    Any hippie will tell you not to trust “elders.” Ours don’t know anything useful or relevant to 2018.

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    Any hippie will tell you not to trust “elders.”

    Goddamn dope smoking, long haired freaks! What did they know?

    Trump repeatedly suggested Venezuela invasion, stunning top aides – report
    The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk the president out of the idea in August of last year

  3. Kathy says:

    I think the lesson is: don’t ever get involved in a civil war.

    Civil wars have to play out, and they rarely end before they are played out.

    BTW, by civil war I mean the common kind where government is toppled by force, often repeatedly, while fighting continues either continuously or sporadically for years, even after the government is taken. Not the kind of civil war fought in the US in the 1860s. Countries are not usually neatly divided into two antagonistic and mostly contiguous regions.

    Anyway, civil wars are often the result of revolution. I suspect what happens is one group topples the government and takes over the country, which shows other groups, or people, with ambition how to topple a government and take over the country.

    So you get Madero toppling Diaz, then Huerta topples and kills Madero, then Carranza and Pancho Villa…. until it all plays out.

    I’m not very familiar with recent Afghan history, but I know there’s been conflict since the 70s, which got the Soviets involved militarily, which drew in the Americans, and so on until today. It’s folly to think one can come in, fight a couple of years, and leave behind an orderly ally overwhelmed with eternal gratitude.

    That said, the war in Afghanistan made sense given the 9/11 attacks. I can’t say how it should have been conducted, or what other appropriate response could have been employed.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    My suggestion was a massive, catastrophic attack on Pashtun homelands. Weeks of it. B-52s. Which got me called all sorts of names. Of course the death toll in the end would have been a tiny fraction of what we’ve seen, both for our people and for the locals. But we have this idea of ‘proportionality’ in our heads – a stupid idea, a loser’s notion – and we can’t get past it despite the fact that it does not work, cannot work, is indeed guaranteed to fail.

    Along with ‘proportionality’ we love us some nation building. We pulled it off brilliantly in post-war Germany and Japan. But in those days we knew that step one is place boot firmly on neck, write them a constitution, and ram it down their throats. We don’t do that anymore, we are kinder and gentler and entirely ineffectual. Vietnam. Iraq. Afghanistan. We suck at nation-building, and we’ll go on sucking. Nation-building is just about the locals waiting out the clock, whereas there’s really no end to how much Taliban territory we can blow up from the air.

    A response was required after 911; an endless, pointless war was not. The Pashtuns essentially sanctioned a raid: 911. They would have expected a raid in return. We should have done that, a raid not an invasion, but it should have been deliberately out-of-proportion. If there was a ‘winning move,’ that was it. With no exposure to our troops. Cheaper, more effective and less deadly.

    The US military is not a scalpel. It never will be. It’s a sledgehammer. So long as we insist on trying to do surgery with a sledgehammer, we’re going to make things worse. Tecumseh Sherman knew what he was talking about:

    “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m going to expand on ‘proportional response’:

    Terror Chief: Hey, let’s blow up some Americans!
    Terror Flunkie: But won’t they respond?
    Terror Chief: Of course! If we kill 100 of them, they will drop bombs and probably kill 100 of us. That is the price we have to pay, now the only question is: are we prepared to pay?

    Proportionality is a mechanism for fixing an agreed price. An agreed price for dead Americans


    Terror Chief: Hey, let’s blow up some Americans!
    Terror Flunkie: Are you insane? Last time we did that we killed three thousand Americans and endured a bombing so brutal our entire way of life was disrupted, our crops and animals killed, our mosques blown to pieces, our trading rotes closed for years. It went on for months! And we are powerless to retaliate, the Americans can literally exterminate us from the air.

    They bring a knife, we bring a gun. They blow up some ships in Pearl Harbor, we burn their country down around their ears. Doesn’t sound nice, but it’s more effective and less costly.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    All of this has been quite obvious for years now,

    All of this was quite obvious to me on 9/12/01. We were never, NEVER, going to invest the necessary resources for any kind of resolution to the conflict. Anybody who did not know it before there was even talk of it, damn well should have known the moment we sent in cash laden CIA agents to rent members of the Northern Alliance to do our fighting for us.

    It was a joke then and it’s been a joke ever since.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Last time we did that we killed three thousand Americans and endured a bombing so brutal our entire way of life was disrupted, our crops and animals killed, our mosques blown to pieces, our trading rotes closed for years. It went on for months! And we are powerless to retaliate, the Americans can literally exterminate us from the air.

    Except that is the exact opposite of the reality of what happened. Remember the arguments within the Bush Admin about who they should invade? Somebody postulated that we should not invade Afghanistan because “they don’t have enough stuff for us to blow up.” So we killed a few cows. Big deal. The remaining cows had more calves. So we blew up a mountain trail or 2. Great! Look at the wonderful campsite the Americans made for us! Blowing up hovels in remote villages may be satisfying but they are easily rebuilt. Hells Bells, we couldn’t even put a dent in the opium trade.

    One of the great and forgotten lessons of WWII is that “blowing shit up” of and by itself won’t do the job. Study after post war study showed that it didn’t work when Hitler did it to the Brits. It didn’t work when we and the Brits did it to the Germans, and it didn’t work when we did it to the Japanese. A lot of pain was inflicted upon the bombed but all it did was piss them off.

  8. Warren Peese says:

    (1) In case anyone forgot, let’s recall how abysmally and barbarically the Taliban ruled the last time they were in leadership; (2) there is no assurance that the Taliban will disassociate from al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and I doubt they’ll make any such guarantees; (3) we don’t have a lot of troops there, and they’re mostly in support of Afghan troops. The relative cost for keeping religious whackjobs out of power isn’t that much, and we’d probably doing some special ops there regardless.

  9. Mister Bluster says:

    The relative cost for keeping religious whackjobs out of power isn’t that much,..

    As of July 27, 2018, there have been 2,372 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,320 American servicemembers have also been wounded in action during the war. In addition, there were 1,720 U.S. civilian contractor fatalities.

    Jesus Christ Warren (if that’s who you really are) You know everything! Tell us all how many more
    body bags you want to fill so we can budget for the relative cost and keep it down.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    The air war in Germany did a lot. And Afghanistan isn’t an industrial nation. The goals of the bombing would be specifically to demonstrate an escalation the Taliban can’t equal. They have a raiding culture, they don’t think in terms of western war. They thought they’d let this raid (911) happen and we’d raid back – proportionally. They priced it out and said, meh, okay, it’s worth what Al Qaeda is paying for our protection.

    That’s why you raise the price. Whatever they priced in, whatever they were prepared to suffer, multiply it by ten. Raise the price to where they won’t pay it. When you’re the fighter with the longer range, you don’t grapple. We can punch these people 24/7/365 forever, and they can’t really hit back. So what did we do? We put troops in harm’s way and played our half-assed nation-building game and surrendered every advantage. We put a clock on it when we were in a position to play for eternity.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    It may be time to get out, but do we really know where the f’n door is?

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    In other news:

    Mueller: Flynn gave ‘substantial assistance’ to probe, recommends little to no prison
    “The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government.”
    “The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and the Russian government,”

    I wonder if those bricks that REPUBLICAN President Puss Bucket is excreting upon reading this are causing him any pain?

  13. Lounsbury says:

    Charming Americans. Never learn anything from history, always believe that WWII teaches all lessons. Attack the Pashtuns, cite WWII lessons.

    Brilliant. The lessons of the Raj and the Soviets, of course absolute bollocks. You have bombers. And technology. I should predict another 17 years still won’t change your minds.

  14. Jen says:

    When the Soviets were forced out of Afghanistan, we brushed our hands off and patted ourselves on the back for “helping” to hold back the scourge of communism. The place fell apart, just as Gust Avrakotos allegedly predicted.

    I often wonder how this all would have shaken out if the Soviets had absorbed Afghanistan, spent their money, time, and treasure to invest in the country. Hindsight is 20/20 and all, but if we pull up stakes again I feel it’s likely we’ll end up with another similar situation.

  15. Lounsbury says:

    @Jen: This is … fvcking daft.

    The Sovs poured over a hundred thousand troops into Afghanistan, fought in the usual savage Russian style – they killed a million goddamn Afghans for fvk’s sake – and spent a decade.

    Absorbed Afghanistan.

    Neither the British Empire (of which the Raj, which one could never accuse of any particular delicate behaviour relative to the natives) nor the Soviet Empire digested Afghanistan.
    Neither are you ignorant history ignoring lot going to.

    Bloody messianic dreamers, you people.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Warren Peese:

    The relative cost for keeping religious whackjobs out of power isn’t that much,

    As long as it’s not one of your family members doing the dying.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The air war in Germany did a lot. And Afghanistan isn’t an industrial nation.

    But you put your finger on the problem right there Michael. The only part of the strategic bombing campaign that was truly effective were the raids against the various refineries. Everything else Albert Speer and his minions put back in production with in days. Time after time after action surveillance flights showed little to no effect on production.

    The Afghans don’t need refineries to fuel their donkeys.

    Raise the price to where they won’t pay it.

    But what is that price? The Afghans raised the price beyond what we are willing to pay. That is why we are still there, and will continue to be there until finally somebody comes along and says, “This is not working. We need to leave.”

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: Any goal that can’t be accomplished with bombs and technology is not worth attempting–unless it enriches an individual or (small) group. It’s in the rules.

  19. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury: You’re missing my point (and I’ll admit it wasn’t conveyed well at all). Afghanistan has always been a challenge, but the US ended up making things worse by getting involved and providing arms/weapons after the Soviets invaded, concurrent with the policy of holding back communism wherever. We surreptitiously armed the Taliban, and then were surprised when they filled the vacuum that was created. Absorbed was the wrong word to use, but the Soviets had already established schools that were educating Afghan girls. Where are we now with that?

    To be utterly and completely clear: I am not advocating or justifying the Soviet actions or behavior. I do think that the US’s actions ended up complicating factors even more and I wonder what an alternate set of circumstances would have yielded. Don’t you?

  20. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury: Honest question: what do you see as the solution here, knowing the complexities of the region and the history?

    If the US and all other coalition members pack up and go home, what happens?

  21. DrDaveT says:


    Neither the British Empire (of which the Raj, which one could never accuse of any particular delicate behaviour relative to the natives) nor the Soviet Empire digested Afghanistan.

    I think that was Jen’s point — we could have left the Soviet Union with permanent indigestion, leaving Afghanistan their internal problem, rather than arming and subsidizing the Taliban out of some kind of Domino Theory phobia. It is interesting to speculate on what the world would look like today if we had pursued that course.