There’s No Such Thing As ‘Winning’ in Afghanistan


The War in Afghanistan is America’s longest war — and if weren’t the direct result of the 9/11 attacks on America, it would certainly rival Vietnam or Iraq as our most meaningless foreign adventure.

As the initial small-scale invasion of the Asian country was immediately successful in displacing the Taliban, many scoffed at the cliché that Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires.” But the extremist Muslim sect was able to retreat and retrench both in the mountains of their home country and their former ally Pakistan, while the U.S. refocused on Saddam Hussein.

“It is possible in wars against guerrillas to flood cities with troops,” Patrick Porter, a lecturer in defense studies at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Kings College London, said in 2009. “It is much harder to flood mountains. And Afghanistan is a country not of very powerful cities but of thousands of isolated villages cut off in severe winters, allowing guerrillas and insurgents to melt away and return.”

President Obama’s “surge” hasn’t produced the fortuitous results of a similar late-term effort in Iraq. The Taliban is still potent, though tens of thousands of new American troops may have helped keep Osama bin Laden pinned down in Pakistan, allowing the U.S. to track him down and kill him in 2011, providing a rationale for ending the war.

But as the U.S. transitions military control of the country to Afghan forces under President Hamid Karzai with a goal of complete transfer by 2014, the question remains: What are we leaving in Afghanistan?

Literally, we are leaving several military installations. But will they be U.S. or Afghan bases?

Karzai shocked many when he announced that he would be willing to let the U.S. keep its military assets, allowing foreign troops to be stationed in the country indefinitely. This is a step further than what the Obama administration sought.

“As President Obama has made clear, we do not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan,” the American Embassy said in a statement. The deal they’re looking for would “address access to, and use of, Afghan facilities by U.S. forces.”

Ben Anderson went to Afghanistan in 2007 to make a film about the vicious fighting in the country’s most violent province. He didn’t plan on staying for six years. But he did, and “This Is What Winning Looks Like” from Vice News is his story.

You can watch part one above. And it may be one of the most depressing things you’ll ever see in your life.

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