Small Wars Journal


A Counterfactual Look at the Afghan War:  the “SOF-only” COA and its Implications for the Future Riley.C.Murray Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:41am
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began as a war to combat transnational terrorism but quickly evolved into something deeper and more profound.  To combat terror emanating from a foreign country the U.S. sought a cooperative Afghan government, and thus the war became an exercise in first toppling an uncooperative regime in the Taliban, and second establishing an effective government with a monopoly on force.  The first step proved easy, while the second led to a revival of counterinsurgent theory and doctrine in the U.S. military, as the deposed Taliban fought to undermine the newly established government.  With President Biden’s announcement all U.S. troops will be withdrawn after 20 years of engagement, it’s natural to take stock of what’s been achieved.  Most now recognize the error in the strategy of deploying large numbers of U.S. and Coalition troops to augment the Afghan defense forces.  Economically, through 2017 the combined efforts of the Afghan War had cost $877 billion, a price tag few would argue is justified by the realized returns.

The Afghan Air Force: A Harsh Lesson in the Expensive Game of Airpower Reconstruction

Sun, 10/10/2021 - 3:36am
“Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence.”[1] British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, recognized the value of airpower as early as 1933 during the rise of Adolf Hitler, and his words hold to this day. The United States spent sixteen of the last twenty years and precious resources attempting to rebuild the Afghan Air Force (AAF) into a viable, self-sustaining military aviation component capable of supporting the democratically-elected Afghan government. The withdrawal of U.S. and Coalition forces in August of 2021, and the embarrassingly swift takeover by the Taliban, have left the AAF in shambles. Many pilots fled with their aircraft to neighboring countries, where their fate remains uncertain, while the rest are now in Taliban hands.

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Biden’s Predetermined Withdrawal Leaves Both Afghanistan and Western Coalitions in Tatters ZFTWARNING Mon, 09/27/2021 - 7:49pm
Terrorism and national security scholars Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware weigh in on the consequences of the Biden Administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s continuing role in U.S. Strategic Competition in the absence of U.S. troops

Thu, 07/15/2021 - 1:57pm
The nature of American overseas military operations is once again shifting, this time away from Counterterrorism (CT) and Counter Insurgency (COIN) Operations toward an era of Strategic Competition and Large-Scale Combat Operations (LSCO). After nearly two decades of major operations in the Middle East, few are taking positions against the shift or promoting costly so-called “forever-wars”. But consensus on what the U.S. will no longer do does little to inform what the U.S. ought to do. 

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Joint Special Operations Univeristy: Mazar-e Sharif: The First Victory of the 21st Century Against Terrorism

Thu, 04/22/2021 - 6:23pm

A Joint Special Operations University monograph that analyzes the Battle of Mazar-e Sharif at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan

Full text available here:

USIP: How to Prevent Fresh Hostilities as Afghan Peace Talks Progress

Ensuring the Taliban do not seek a battlefield victory will require sustained U.S. attention and resources.

Meghan L. O’Sullivan; Vikram J. Singh; Johnny Walsh

Full Article:

Many peace processes experience at least short-term reversions to violence. Even a successful Afghan peace process will be at risk of the same, especially in the likely event that the United States and its allies continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Ideally, such troop reductions would move in parallel with de-escalatory measures by the Taliban and other armed actors on the ground. A healthy dose of realism is in order, however. Though the Taliban and others in Afghanistan are unlikely to ever fully disarm or demobilize, persistent resources and attention from the United States and its allies can help prevent any regression to full-scale violence during the years of any peace agreement’s implementation.

As the Afghanistan peace negotiations (APN) progress, there is considerable focus on the details of the U.S. troop drawdown, but less attention is given to parallel moves the Taliban may make as the U.S. military capacity to challenge it diminishes. To ensure a lasting peace, the United States and its partners should strive to minimize the possibility that, once international forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban remobilize and seek a battlefield victory.

Riley.C.Murray Wed, 02/17/2021 - 7:11pm
USIP: Afghanistan Study Group Final Report: A Pathway for Peace in Afghanistan

In December 2019, Congress established the Afghanistan Study Group and tasked it with identifying policy recommendations that “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on U.S. policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.”

Full Report:

Riley.C.Murray Fri, 02/05/2021 - 10:07pm
Clearance Jobs News: ANDSF Versus the Taliban Militia: If Peace Talks Fail

By Jason Criss Hawk


Full Article:

Riley.C.Murray Fri, 01/29/2021 - 6:00pm
SOF News: Afghan Conflict Update – January 2021

A roundup of news, analysis, and commentary about the war in Afghanistan.



-A report the the U.S. Treasury Department that Al Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan

-Assassination threats against Afghan Journalists

-Released Taliban prisoners being recaptured

-A net assessment of the ANSDF and the Taliban

-The beginnings of the new adminstration's approach to Afghanistan

-Updates on peace talks

Riley.C.Murray Fri, 01/29/2021 - 5:56pm

The Case for Maintaining an Advisory Presence in Afghanistan

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 9:35am
Barring an unforeseen event or shift in policy, it seems likely that by May 2021, the United States will remove its military forces from Afghanistan. Despite claims of progress, the United States and its allies have undeniably made many mistakes over the past two decades. Some commentators have argued that Afghanistan has been an “undeniable failure.” While many commentators and policymakers have focused on getting out of Afghanistan, the past shows the potentially devastating consequences such actions could bring. Instead, the United States and its NATO allies should consider leaving a small presence of advisors to support institutional development at the ministries and institutions.

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