Jessica Donati’s thoughts upon leaving her Afghanistan assignment with the Wall Street Journal are worth a read, if you can get past the pay wall, but this is the part that seems most timely, just now:
The Obama administration’s military surge ended in 2012, but local forces weren’t prepared to take over. The Taliban swept through rural areas, and an Islamic State insurgency took root, capitalizing on popular frustration with a government often seen as dominated by brutal former warlords.
The surge-and-slip-away strategy was an obviously problematic one to anybody who pays even passing attention to human nature and has a cursory familiarity with history. The same can be said of this, from Vance Serchuk’s commentary on President Trump’s stated policy for that nation (also WSJ… sorry):
The first and most important of [the lesson that Trump appears to have learned from the Bush and Obama administrations’ results] is the rejection of fixed timetables for U.S. withdrawal. Instead the president is taking a conditions-based approach that removes any deadline for pulling out.
That’s significant because America’s recurring efforts to extricate itself from Afghanistan—from the Bush administration’s push to hand over the Afghan mission to NATO, to the Obama administration’s pledge to bring all forces home by the end of its term in office—have helped foster the very conditions that have forced the U.S. to stay.
This U.S. exit-seeking has encouraged the Taliban to think it can outlast America on the battlefield, deterred Afghan civilians from siding with the coalition, and given regional powers like Pakistan incentives to hedge against the U.S. by supporting insurgent groups.
Again, how was this not obvious beforehand? Scheduling a departure — even making it clear that you’d rather leave than settle in — changes the enemy’s strategy to digging in and waiting. So, the enemy waited. Obama looked for the first plausible moment to hand off control to an inchoate authority. And now we’re still there and moving back in.