Security, Middle East
The country may never become a fully-fledged democracy, but staying the course may be the only option.
American forces could still be in Afghanistan sixteen years from now—or even generations from now—under the White House’s current strategy of maintaining an open-ended commitment to that war-torn nation.
“I think we will be there in sixteen years,” retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen told an audience at the Center for the National Interest during a lunch-time discussion on Sept. 13. “But I don’t think this is a sixteen-year loss on our part.”
Allen said that American forces in Afghanistan could be “holding the line” indefinitely into the future under President Donald Trump’s new strategy. The United States drew down its forces very quickly during the waning days of the Obama administration, which inevitably led to the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. “President Trump has removed the end date and has given us an end state,” Allen said. “With this president committed to an outcome that is whatever he calls winning…then I think we can hold the line at the security level.”
Holding the line at the security level would allow the Afghans to develop greater capacity in governance and greater capacity in economic development. “If we can get those two going—where we’re holding the line at the security level—and we’ve got a chance,” Allen said. “So we may well be there for another sixteen years, we’ve been in Kosovo for a very long time. We’ve had troops in the Sinai for a generation.”
Allen also noted that the United States has been in the Republic of Korea and Japan for decades to “win the peace.” It took decades for South Korea to emerge from military rule and an extreme level of corruption as a fully functional democracy, but it eventually did thanks to the presence of American forces. Afghanistan might never become a fully-fledged democracy, but Allen argues that the only option is to stay the course. The alternative is to see the collapse of the Afghan government and the reemergence of an Islamic fundamentalist state. “I think the alternatives are just obvious in this regard,” Allen said.