Meet the believers: The Afghanistan war’s U.S. commanders are ready for a reboot

In Washington, there are few believers in the Afghanistan War. In Kandahar, there is a veritable church for it. The sermon may sound a little too familiar — another strategy shift, another surge of forces, another insistence that this time the end really is in sight — but the preachers say they are armed with new rules, a new plan, new firepower, and new hope.

“I’m a believer,” said Col. Stephen “Joker” Jones, who flew a Predator drone providing intel to the B-2 stealth bomber strike that hit this very airfield on Oct. 7, 2001 at the beginning of the war, then later flew B-1 Lancer missions over Afghanistan, and is now back to flying drones. “This country has defined my career. This is what I’ve done with my entire adult life,” Jones told reporters visiting the airfield with Gen. Votel. “I’m here for a year. I fully expect to come back. And that’s totally fine with me.”

Joker’s serious. And eager. He sits at the deployed end of a string of officers with the same faith, a string that runs back through Kabul, Votel’s CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s Pentagon suite, and all the way to the Oval Office. All are convinced that President Donald Trump’s new “South Asia strategy” can work.