Afghanistan and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy


September 11, 2021 marked 20 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011 (911) and shortly before this solemn commemoration, on August 30, the United States (US) withdrew the last of its military forces from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA).[1]  Prior to the withdrawal, US forces had been on the ground in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001. In these two decades, the US spent over $2 trillion USD[2] and invested over 2,300[3] in human capital to offer Afghanistan a chance for prosperity. Unfortunately, the way the US withdrew from Afghanistan appeared as curious as it did haphazard. On a global stage, the US orchestrated a series of diplomatic, tactical, and strategic missteps that were all preventable. Although cringeworthy and tragic, these recent missteps offer opportunity for reflection and lessons to learn from; as did the way the US approached the war in Afghanistan.

“Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.” – Ernest Hemingway

The great irony is the US capitulated to the very terrorist group it drove from power 20 years earlier, and in doing so, created a pathway to enable the Taliban to recreate the conditions that precipitated 911 to begin with. In order to better understand the events that led to this and assist decision makers preclude a costly calamity like this in the future, this essay examines three U.S. policy failures consisting of: (1) connection to the conflict; (2) mission creep; and (3) diplomacy, and how these lessons may shape future U.S. foreign policy and armed conflicts.

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