US Aims to Pare Back Expectations in Afghanistan

Nine Years In: What Is the Goal, Anyhow?

Nine years into the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the goals have never been particularly clearly defined. But with the war still going poorly one thing is certain: they aren’t being met.

So reports have officials now shrinking their overall goals for the war, whatever those are. Anti-corruption efforts are ‘essential’ one day and impossible the next. At times officials vow to ensure the Taliban will never return to power, while others openly talk about reconciliation and finding a “role” for the Taliban in ruling the country. Al-Qaeda is cited as an excuse for the war, but officials admit the group’s leadership is long gone and only a handful of al-Qaeda members even remain.

Which is perhaps part of why officials never seem to accomplish any goals — they can’t agree on what they are. But paring back expectations is really more of the same, and another excuse to keep the war going in the face of mounting evidence of what a colossal failure it has been.

The few tangible metrics we’ve been presented with, like the growth and training of Afghan security forces, are never met and still always expanded. Claims of “progress” are forever met with rising death tolls and official ambivalence. The July 2011 date became the “end of 2014” date, and even that is already being disavowed by some officials.

The Afghan War has been going on for so long it seems to have a momentum of its own, and rather than worrying about having possible goals to meet the default position seems to be to continue the war with an end only really coming if some sort of victory-seeming condition appears on its own.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of