On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States launched one of the most stunningly successful military operations in its history. Just four weeks after terrorists directed from Afghanistan killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil, we struck al-Qaida and Taliban government targets with aircraft, missiles and Special Forces soldiers. By early December, the Taliban was out of power, al-Qaida had fled into the mountains and victory was ours.
But that was eight years ago. Did anyone expect back then that we would still be in Afghanistan today, with more troops than ever? The war we thought we had won is not only dragging on but getting worse.
Already, 2009 has been the deadliest year of the war for American forces, and August was the deadliest month yet. Concludes Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, "The U.S. is now losing the war against the Taliban."
Beyond toppling the Taliban regime, it's hard to see what we have accomplished. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 Western troops and foreign assistance totaling $32 billion since 2001, The Economist magazine says nearly two-thirds of the country "is considered too dangerous for aid agencies to reach."
In much of the country, the central government that we have done so much to bolster is about as relevant as the Confederate Air Force. When RAND Corp. scholar Seth Jones traveled in the country last year, he found "some villagers had never heard of President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since 2001."
This week, U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal submitted a report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserting that "success is achievable" with "a revised implementation strategy." He is expected to request even more troops -- even though the number of American military personnel has doubled in the past year, to more than 60,000.
How many more troops? The Washington Post reports that a senior military officer said recently that the U.S. would need a force of 100,000 to carry out a new strategy. That may not be easy to get from the Obama administration, since a majority of Americans now oppose a war that once had near-universal support.
Nor is 100,000 troops necessarily enough. The surge strategy in Iraq required 160,000 U.S. military personnel -- in a country with fewer people and a third less land area than Afghanistan.