Sixteen Years and Counting in Afghanistan: What’s Next for America’s Longest War? | Wilson Center
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Sixteen Years and Counting in Afghanistan: What’s Next for America’s Longest War?

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Webcast Recap

October marks 16 years since a U.S.-led troop mission entered Afghanistan to eliminate sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and to remove its Taliban hosts from power. Those initial goals were achieved fairly quickly, and yet more than a decade and a half later, American soldiers are still in Afghanistan fighting a seemingly unending war. This event addressed how we got to where we are today; what the best and worst policies would be moving forward; whether U.S. President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy can turn the tide of such a long and complicated war; and what the regional ramifications of this strategy could be — particularly in terms of implications for India and Pakistan.

Key Quotes

Amb. Hamdullah Mohib

“We are gathered to talk about America’s longest war, but I’m here to say that it is also Afghanistan’s longest war.”

“We must win the people. That has been the missing link.”

“Stability will not be secured at some distant negotiations table or foreign offices. It will be made at the homes of the Afghans. We need to address their grievances and commit resources to the reform efforts so we can draw this long war to conclusion. If we win the people, we will win both war and peace.”

Christopher Kolenda

“Anybody who has spent time with Afghans, anybody who has gotten to know the ambassador, who’s gotten to know President Ghani, can’t help but want what is absolutely best for this country.”

“Unfortunately, the United States continues, or the government continues, to offer the president military-centric strategies for what the ambassador said is a conflict that has no military solution.”

“Afghans have been at war for 40 years. This is an extraordinary amount of time and deep, deep scar tissue. Anybody who says, ‘Let’s just get everybody around a negotiating table and crack a deal,’ is not respecting Afghans and not respecting that very difficult history of 40 years.”

“As a taxpayer, I am utterly outraged at the lack of a coherent strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan. We are spending $25 billion a year, roughly, in this conflict. Twenty-five billion dollars a year can pay the salaries of 50,000 teachers in America for ten years. Twenty-five billion dollars a year can pave, can refurbish, 50,000 miles of dilapidated American roads.” 

Luke Coffey

“President Trump’s strategy on Afghanistan I think I would describe in a pithy way in three words: responsible, reasonable, and realistic.” 

“There will always be an insurgency in my lifetime in Afghanistan, in my opinion. This is my assessment. This isn’t defeat, this is reality.”

“I think have to stop looking at Afghanistan merely as a continuing war; we’re not leading combat operations anymore… We should start perhaps looking at Afghanistan as one of the dozens of training missions we have around the world — to train the Afghan security forces.” 

“The Afghans are a very proud people [with] very rich and diverse history, and Americans don’t need to tell Afghans how to govern themselves.”

Shamila Chaudhary

“Who are we targeting? I guess [that] is the question that I’m left with. If we are to end the war today, who exactly do we end it with? Al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, ISIS, TTP, LET, or Islamabad? I didn’t hear that in President Trump’s strategy speech. I didn’t hear who the enemy was exactly.”

“Let that be a lesson to us moving forward — that there is no such thing as carrots and sticks when it comes to the U.S.- Pakistan relationship. So, we’re going to have to just change the way we think about this country. This is not a client state of the United States. We can’t control it. We don’t have that perception with any country that we work on, [so] why do we have it with Pakistan?”

"So the question, really, is not 'Is this a waste of our money or a good use of our money,' but 'What is America’s role in the world?' What purpose do we serve in helping and working with other countries to create a safer place for them to live?”




  • Hamdullah Mohib

    Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States
  • Christopher Kolenda

    Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security
  • Luke Coffey

    Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation
  • Shamila Chaudhary

    Senior South Asia Fellow, New America, and Senior Advisor, Johns Hopkins SAIS