What was determinative in America’s victorious 2001 and 2008 – 2013 Afghanistan military campaigns was the will of the American people to keep the Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist base again. Unlike Vietnam, but like the Second World War, this war was started by a surprise attack on the American people at home. Thus the America people’s definition of “victory” was security at home, whatever games America’s ruling elite of the time were doing to either make the goal more or less than that definition.
This American determination was aided by two things. The will of the Afghans not to be ruled by foreign Islamist backed drug warlords and the terrain of Southern Afghanistan.
The much missed at the time fact was that America’s military was not “colonizing” Afghanistan for the West. It was _re-establishing_ the old cultural order of Afghan tribal elders against the drug trade and the students of the foreign Saudi-Wahabi Islamist schools in Pakistan and the wider Muslim world.
American Special Forces Hunting Taliban on Horseback
The Pashtun Drug Warlords, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were the “power challengers” with guns and cash who were atomizing local Afghan tribal culture and cutting that culture off from both welcome modern medicine and wireless telecommunications, not the Americans.
When the Narco-Taliban forces started killing those with modern communications devices or treated by American military medicine to protect its drugs, it exposed the Schwerpunkt (center of gravity, focal point) of the Afghan drug trade. The drug trade relied on Opium and opium needed water. It had to control the people who controlled the waters of Southern Afghanistan.
At the time of the second Afghan campaign, 65 percent of the Afghan population lived within 35 miles of the main road system, which approximated the old medieval caravan routes. Which, in turn, had followed the water sources. This meant only 80 out of 342 districts were really key to military success, and in those districts, only the areas that had irrigation for Opium poppies mattered.
Afghan Army Special Forces trooper in Opium Poppy Field
The surge of American troops in the 2008 to 2011 time period allowed American forces to drive the Drug Lords away from the water, literally drying up the cash flow that allowed Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces to bribe Afghan government officials, buy Pashtun gunman and provide supplies to their membership in Southern Afghanistan and the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan.
This did not kill the world drug trade in Opium, which moved elsewhere, but it did reduce the problems of the Pashtun areas to a scale that allowed the defacto American military governor to manage the tribes with the Afghan government the way the 19th century British did, via bribes and reprisals.
The continuing problem of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency/Pakistani Taliban meddling in Afghan affairs did not end until the Pakistani Coup of 2021. Which began with a 15 kiloton nuclear detonation in Islamabad that killed the leaders of the military government, destroyed the ISI headquarters and most senior ISI leaders and set off the Wars of Pakistani Succession in the aftermath.
The Afghan Pacification Campaigns — Lessons in Salvaging a Failed State. @ 2043, AUSA Press, PP 3