“By the end of 2014, the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.” — Barack Obama, 2012
“We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives.” — Donald Trump via Twitter, 2013
“I would like to just get out. The problem is, [Afghanistan] just seems to be a lab for terrorists.” — Trump to Tucker Carlson, 2019
“We will withdraw. We have to.” — Pete Buttigieg, 2019
Over seven years, a president, a future president, and an aspiring president have all embraced the same goal: to get out of Afghanistan. Yet the war continues. Democrats sparred on cable news last night about what politicians tend to call America’s longest war, though it’s Afghanistan that’s endured almost 20 years of car bombs, air strikes, and suicide attacks since the United States invaded. Today a highway bus bombing killed 32 people, including children. Two American soldiers who were toddlers when the September 11 attacks took place also died in Afghanistan this week.
Washington’s policy reflects the ambivalence of successive presidents who have promised to leave yet fear the deadly consequences of doing so. Just Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared publicly the expectation that the United States would be out before the 2020 election, joking that this would be “job-enhancing” for him. His own special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Afghanistan trying to set the conditions for a withdrawal, but told an Afghan television station that no timeline had been agreed on yet.