The war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history. At seventeen years and nearly $1 trillion and counting, the war has taken quagmire to new levels. The Afghan government is hopelessly corrupt, the Taliban remain resilient, and Afghanistan’s neighbors have no interest in seeing the United States succeed. Over 2,400 American service members have died during service in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghans are killed or wounded each year. Now, a branch of Islamic State seems on the rise in Afghanistan, too. The country’s Presidential election, slated for 2019, is highly likely to have a disputed outcome. Many experts believe this could lead to a wider civil war.
The Trump administration ended the Obama timelines, bolstered the advisory effort, and put more pressure on Pakistan in the hopes that the Taliban would sue for peace. Despite the increase in troops, firepower, and pressure, the Taliban contests nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts. Nonetheless, the Taliban issued a letter to the American people on February 14, 2018, requesting talks. After Afghan President Ghani declared a cease fire for the Eid holiday in June, the Taliban issued their own 3-day cease fire directive. For the first time in 40 years, Afghans celebrated Eid in peace. Can the United States still succeed in Afghanistan?
Colonel (Ret.) Christopher D. Kolenda commanded of U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan, as featured in Jake Tapper’s bestselling book, The Outpost. His unit was the only one in the 17-year history of the war to have motivated a large insurgent group to stop fighting and eventually join the government. He served as a senior adviser to Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, and Dunford, and to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle A. Flournoy, and was selected to be the Secretary of Defense’s representative in the Obama administration’s exploratory talks with the Taliban. He’s the only American to have fought the Taliban as a commander in combat and engage them in high level diplomacy. His recent volunteer efforts with an international NGO have helped bring about a resumption of US-Taliban talks.
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