Quora: What's Next for the US in Afghanistan?

U.S. soldier Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier holds the national flag ahead of a handover ceremony at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand on April 29. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty

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Answer from Patrick Dugan, Product Designer:

The American military effort in Afghanistan is now in its sixteenth year. To put that into context, a number of the soldiers, Marines, and airmen we will send into the Afghan theater two years from now will have been born after 9/11.

The American military initially entered Afghanistan with a lightweight force compromised of mostly special forces with the expressed intention of eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives operating inside of the country.

While we were able to do this very well, the larger issue is and always has been that Afghanistan has always been an ungovernable state. You can't remove a power broker like Al-Qaeda without replacing it with some form of government, and to date every government the American's have propped up inside of Afghanistan has been inherently corrupt.

A summary of what happens next is:

  • American military resources are then largely pulled out of the country and into Iraq.
  • While focusing on Iraq, American forces continue to prop up a series of corrupt government leaders who have little or no ability to govern a number of villages and provinces across Afghanistan.
  • In the power vacuum we created and with our attention focused elsewhere, Al-Qaeda re-enters Afghanistan in force and begins flipping provinces back to their control.

Enter: President Obama, his surge, and Stanley McChrystal.

President Obama assumes office in 2008 and quickly realizes the situation in Afghanistan is spiraling out of control. In 2009, at the urging of his military advisors, Obama begins pouring troops into the country.

Obama increases the American military footprint inside Afghanistan from around 30,000 when he assumes office to more than 100,000 troops at the peak in 2011.

The commanding officer in the Afghan theater, General McChrystal, is an advocate of COIN, or Counter-insurgency operations which involve clearing and holding territory. In the middle of the surge, McChrystal is unceremoniously fired for bad mouthing the President to a Rolling Stone reporter who later wrote the now infamous article, The Runaway General.

The surge, while resulting in modest gains, is largely deemed a failure. President Obama, acutely aware of this failure, proceeds with large-scale troop drawdowns.

Today, neither President Trump nor his military advisors have articulated what they would consider victory in Afghanistan to look like, which is a pretty important thing to have clearly defined when you are creating a strategy for military operations. In terms of paths forwards, our options are limited and the potential outcomes of those paths are bleak.

In one path forward, we pull all American and allied troops out of Afghanistan. In doing this, Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and terrorist groups as if we were never there at all, and Iran continues to gain influence in the country.

In another path forward, America maintains a large-scale military presence in Afghanistan for decades to come (not dissimilar to our military presence in countries like Japan, South Korea, or Germany). The key difference here is that overseas military presences are only considered acceptable by the larger American citizenry as long as our deployed forces aren't continuously blown apart by Improvised Explosive Devices. However, in order for that to happen, the country in which our forces are deployed needs a functioning government which is something Afghanistan will never have.

In a third, albeit unlikely path forward, traditional American military forces pull out of Afghanistan and are replaced with privately controlled security contractors. This is plan that has been proposed by the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince. In such a scenario, you would likely see a dramatic uptick in incidents like the Nisour Square massacre. The likely long term effects of handing the country over to private security forces is a rapid acceleration in the number of terrorists and combatants who take up arms against America.

What are the major schools of thought about what the US should do regarding Afghanistan? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Quora: What's Next for the US in Afghanistan? | Opinion