Over the weekend, the United States formally declared an end to the war in Afghanistan.
The war that began on October 7, 2001 and completed its objective of ousting the Taliban from power on November 13 quickly evolved into a counterinsurgency operation. The war eventually became the longest sustained combat mission in American history.
While the war in Afghanistan may be over, the mission continues. The coalition’s decision to continue to buttress the Afghan government with military assistance will prove pivotal (despite the fact that Operation Resolute Support is, like the anti-ISIS “Operation Inherent Resolve,” another mission that unnervingly declares rather than demonstrates its steadfastness).
While the White House will never admit it, they learned a hard lesson in Iraq. Over 10,000 American soldiers will remain behind when the United States “leaves” Afghanistan. While military commanders expect to remove all but essential embassy personnel by 2017, any residual troop presence is better than nothing.
Nevertheless, the Taliban insurgency could not help itself. They have taken the opportunity of American withdrawal to declare victory over the United States. The president’s critics will be tempted to take the Taliban’s declaration at face value, and the group’s continued operational effectiveness is legitimately troubling, but the Taliban’s assertions of victory over the United States are as hollow as they are prolific.
In the wake of the administration’s decision to release five former Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Taliban also declared “victory.”
“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahedeen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory,” said the inexplicably still alive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
When the United States began to pursue negotiations with the former regime in Afghanistan 2012, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban calls itself, issued a formal proclamation of victory.
“It is but sheer determination, religious and ideological adherence and unequalled sacrifices displayed by true Afghan Mujahid nation for the last decade that today regional and world powers are after to reach mutual understanding about the country,” read a Taliban statement in torturously broken English.
When the Kyrgyz parliament voted to discontinue the practice of allowing coalition forces to use the Manas airbase to resupply troops in Afghanistan in 2009, the Taliban gloated over their diplomatic victory.
In 2007, when fighting in Kandahar flared and the Taliban engaged NATO troops in the first major offensives of that year, the Taliban declared that it had achieved a series of military victories over the allies.
The Taliban does not jealously guard its credibility when it comes to declaring strategic victories over American forces. If history is any guide, this latest will not be the last time that the Taliban asserts that it has finally defeated coalition forces.