A Memo to the Next President on Winning in Afghanistan by Joseph Collins, War on the Rocks
… Soon, however, this issue will be in your inbox. I am betting that you don't want to be the president who loses a winnable contest.
In the last four years, America's policy in practice has been to "not lose" in Afghanistan with the least amount of expenditures possible. Washington's uncertain trumpet has encouraged the Taliban to fight harder and for Pakistan to help them. In the ensuing chaos, both al Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State have stronger positions in Afghanistan than they did just a few years ago. This is, in part, due to the success of Pakistani military forces against militants in the border regions of their country. Their success pushed bad actors into Afghanistan, adding to an already perilous situation. Our only ace in the hole has been the Afghan security forces who are fighting hard with minimal assistance. The Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani is dedicated to the fight, but faces daunting levels of economic and corruption challenges. There is also an internal political struggle with the legislature and local critics – the stuff of a budding democracy.
Some of your advisors will tell you to cut your losses in Afghanistan. Don't. Nothing smells worse than defeat or abandonment. Our enemies still tell their recruits about how we were forced to leave Lebanon during the Reagan years and Vietnam before that. Others will tell you that Afghanistan is beyond hope. It is not. The policy accountants will tell you that we have spent far too much money on Afghanistan. They are right, but those billions were wasted only because the United States lacked the will and a strategy to bring the war to a successful conclusion…