Through it all, the American people were told by their leadership that progress was just around the corner. The senior officers in charge of implementing a failed strategy refused to level with Americans about just how difficult the circumstances were.
The Taliban’s resurgence is the inevitable outcome of an inadequate organizational structure and an ineffective strategy. The Taliban in 2001 consisted of large units organized under a tribal military chain of command driven by a religious ideology. The U.S. won by March 2002, but instead of recognizing victory and departing, Washington took on greater responsibility by building political and security organizations that would lead to a Taliban resurgence, unparalleled corruption across the political system and an 18-plus-year conflict. By 2004, the Taliban took advantage of a sanctuary in Pakistan to reorganize, recruit and fundraise while co-opting village elders across the border. By 2005, the Taliban and other insurgent organizations had a foothold across Afghanistan.
When we did make security gains in Afghanistan, we threw them away with an abrupt change in military strategy. The only period in Afghanistan when there were unprecedented security gains was between mid-2010 through the end of 2013, when an emphasis on bottom-up population-centric operations in the rural areas took time, space and opportunity away from the insurgents. The establishment and U.S. mentoring of the Afghan Local Police during this period not only diminished the pool of recruits for the Taliban, but also provided a degree of security for communities previously felt abandoned by the insurgents.