Small Wars Journal


Why shouldn’t the Taliban win?

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 3:05am
With much less than anticipated difficulties, the Taliban came roaring back to Kabul, 20 years after they were dethroned by the US forces in the wake of 9/11 terrorist attack. Ironically, the Taliban flag was hoisted on Kabul on the 20th anniversary of the most horrific attacks on the US soil. At the twilight of US presence in Afghanistan, the horrendous attack by ISIS-K killing hundreds of Afghans and 13 US service members at Kabul airport is a grim reminder to the world that the war in Afghanistan is far from over.

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A Counterfactual Look at the Afghan War:  the “SOF-only” COA and its Implications for the Future

Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:41am
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began as a war to combat transnational terrorism but quickly evolved into something deeper and more profound.  To combat terror emanating from a foreign country the U.S. sought a cooperative Afghan government, and thus the war became an exercise in first toppling an uncooperative regime in the Taliban, and second establishing an effective government with a monopoly on force.  The first step proved easy, while the second led to a revival of counterinsurgent theory and doctrine in the U.S. military, as the deposed Taliban fought to undermine the newly established government.  With President Biden’s announcement all U.S. troops will be withdrawn after 20 years of engagement, it’s natural to take stock of what’s been achieved.  Most now recognize the error in the strategy of deploying large numbers of U.S. and Coalition troops to augment the Afghan defense forces.  Economically, through 2017 the combined efforts of the Afghan War had cost $877 billion, a price tag few would argue is justified by the realized returns.

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The Afghan Air Force: A Harsh Lesson in the Expensive Game of Airpower Reconstruction

Sun, 10/10/2021 - 3:36am
“Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence.”[1] British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, recognized the value of airpower as early as 1933 during the rise of Adolf Hitler, and his words hold to this day. The United States spent sixteen of the last twenty years and precious resources attempting to rebuild the Afghan Air Force (AAF) into a viable, self-sustaining military aviation component capable of supporting the democratically-elected Afghan government. The withdrawal of U.S. and Coalition forces in August of 2021, and the embarrassingly swift takeover by the Taliban, have left the AAF in shambles. Many pilots fled with their aircraft to neighboring countries, where their fate remains uncertain, while the rest are now in Taliban hands.

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Afghanistan’s continuing role in U.S. Strategic Competition in the absence of U.S. troops

Thu, 07/15/2021 - 1:57pm
The nature of American overseas military operations is once again shifting, this time away from Counterterrorism (CT) and Counter Insurgency (COIN) Operations toward an era of Strategic Competition and Large-Scale Combat Operations (LSCO). After nearly two decades of major operations in the Middle East, few are taking positions against the shift or promoting costly so-called “forever-wars”. But consensus on what the U.S. will no longer do does little to inform what the U.S. ought to do. 

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USIP: How to Prevent Fresh Hostilities as Afghan Peace Talks Progress

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 7:11pm

Ensuring the Taliban do not seek a battlefield victory will require sustained U.S. attention and resources.

Meghan L. O’Sullivan; Vikram J. Singh; Johnny Walsh

Full Article:

Many peace processes experience at least short-term reversions to violence. Even a successful Afghan peace process will be at risk of the same, especially in the likely event that the United States and its allies continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Ideally, such troop reductions would move in parallel with de-escalatory measures by the Taliban and other armed actors on the ground. A healthy dose of realism is in order, however. Though the Taliban and others in Afghanistan are unlikely to ever fully disarm or demobilize, persistent resources and attention from the United States and its allies can help prevent any regression to full-scale violence during the years of any peace agreement’s implementation.

As the Afghanistan peace negotiations (APN) progress, there is considerable focus on the details of the U.S. troop drawdown, but less attention is given to parallel moves the Taliban may make as the U.S. military capacity to challenge it diminishes. To ensure a lasting peace, the United States and its partners should strive to minimize the possibility that, once international forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban remobilize and seek a battlefield victory.

USIP: Afghanistan Study Group Final Report: A Pathway for Peace in Afghanistan

Fri, 02/05/2021 - 10:07pm

In December 2019, Congress established the Afghanistan Study Group and tasked it with identifying policy recommendations that “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on U.S. policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.”

Full Report:

SOF News: Afghan Conflict Update – January 2021

Fri, 01/29/2021 - 5:56pm

A roundup of news, analysis, and commentary about the war in Afghanistan.



-A report the the U.S. Treasury Department that Al Qaeda is gaining strength in Afghanistan

-Assassination threats against Afghan Journalists

-Released Taliban prisoners being recaptured

-A net assessment of the ANSDF and the Taliban

-The beginnings of the new adminstration's approach to Afghanistan

-Updates on peace talks