Twenty years later, the Taliban no longer controls the government, but the United States is still at war with the Taliban. We have tried a variety of strategies, including a surge of military forces in 2009 that was supposed to stop Taliban fighters operating from bases in neighboring Pakistan. None have worked. The Taliban remains a persistent power, drawing succor from its core support group, ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, they have consistently held the strategic initiative because the U.S. forces cannot — or will not — cross the Pakistani border to eliminate the bases the insurgents retreat to. They thus control the war’s flow, ramping up attacks or lowering them according to their designs. The United States cannot win under those conditions; it can only create a stalemate preventing the Taliban from toppling the weak Afghan central government we have supported in Kabul.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.