Imagine if, on Sept. 12, 2001, someone had told you that the United States would still be fighting in Afghanistan a dozen years later, with more than 65,000 troops on the ground, untold billions of dollars spent, and a raging political debate about whether to station U.S. troops there indefinitely to prevent the Taliban’s comeback to power. It sure wouldn’t have seemed like a victory. So how did this happen, and what can we learn from the mistakes and missed opportunities of this decade of conflict? What would the secret Pentagon Papers of this, America’s longest war, read like? With the conflict in Iraq over, the U.S. military headed for the exits in Afghanistan by 2014, and a full-throated argument already in Washington over the scope, scale, size—and budget—of the postwar Pentagon, now is the right time to raise questions about just how the United States managed to fight on—without winning—for such a long time. The result is this FP special report, drawing on the military’s own tradition of after-action reports to raise some hard truths.
The report features expert reflections on what went right and wrong in Afghanistan, an exclusive account from former Obama administration official Vali Nasr of the extreme dysfunction that plagued the president's "AfPak" strategy, and a roundtable led by FP's Tom Ricks on what the military missed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also includes a glance into the future as our annual survey of experts weighs in on the most dangerous threats to the United States in the coming decades and noted strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett guides us through the budget battles with a Think Again on the Pentagon. We may still be wrangling over the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, but America’s military leaders, as Barnett captures all too well, are suffering a perennially bad case of what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called "next-war-itis."
Exclusive: How Obama Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan
By Vali Nasr
Insiders Debate U.S. Misfires in Iraq and Afghanistan
What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?
What Went Right in Afghanistan?
By Peter Bergen
Photos of an Afghanistan Changed for the Better
By Elizabeth F. Ralph
How Obama Can Have His Way on National Security
By Elliott Abrams
FP Survey: State of War
Think Again: The Pentagon
By Thomas P.M. Barnett
Lessons Learned (and Not) from Iraq and Afghanistan
By David Rothkopf