To be at a “critical juncture” implies that one side or the other is poised to decisively gain the upper hand and therefore to win. But the situation in Afghanistan is almost the exact opposite of that. I will likely have my pundit card revoked for saying sonothing diverts attention like saying that a situation isn’t at a critical turning pointbut it’s true.
After eight years of fighting, two things seem clear: First, the insurgency does not have the capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose Afghanistan’s central government; and, second, U.S. forces do not have the ability to vanquish the insurgency. It’s true that the Taliban has gained ground in recent months, but, absent a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, it cannot retake sovereign control. This is not to say that Afghanistan isn’t unstable; it clearly is. That has been the case for eight years, however, and, in the absence of some shocking, unforeseen development, it could be true for another eight or 18 or 80 years. An increase of tens of thousands of troops will not change that fact, nor will subtle tactical changes. Rather than teetering on the edge of some imagined precipice, the situation in Afghanistan is at a virtual stalemate.
Q: Is the Taliban a threat?
A: Of course. The Taliban is an ongoing threat to our ongoing mission to eliminate the Taliban.
Q: And if we fail to eliminate the Taliban?
A: We cannot fail to eliminate the Taliban, as long as the Taliban continues to provide safe havens and training grounds for the Taliban.
Q: And the Taliban, of course, offers aid and comfort to the ever-dangerous Taliban.
A: Such is the deadly circle of terror.