American forces withdrew at the end of 2015, leaving only a token force for training oversight. A short bloody civil war ensued with a faction of the Islamic extremists affiliated with the original Taliban quickly retaking the government. They consolidated their power over the next five years, bringing isolated tribal groups under control with an extreme interpretation of sharì’a law. Afghans see this turn of events not as a return to a life of repression, or even a triumph for Islam, but as a victory over another in a series of invading states and the triumph of nationalists over subjugation to a foreign nation under the regime of a puppet government. The current government was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2035, however the United States has only limited diplomatic relations to this day.
The end of US military action in this region had several long-term consequences. In the relative peace of the last thirty-five years, Afghanistan has been able to rebuild much of its devastated infrastructure. The government has reopened schools, universities and hospitals. With substantial aid from its partners in the Islamic Alliance, notably Pakistan and Iran, they have been able to rebuild trans-national highway networks. A large majority of the nation now has access to reliable electricity, generated by new wind farms as well as the exploitation of the country’s vast natural gas reserves. These reserves, as well as large mineral deposits are now heavily exploited and exported to Afghanistan’s partners in the IA, Russia, and several other countries.
For the United States, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was the start of a decreased military presence in the Middle East and South Central Asia. Many scholars point to this reduction as one of the catalysts for the formation of the Islamic Alliance, however it can be argued that its foundations were laid many years before.
At the time, President Barack Obama hailed the operations in Afghanistan as a resounding success. However the end of the conflict was the start of one of the largest reorganizations of the US military since the 1950s. Large-scale theater operations were deemphasized, with a new focus on asymmetric warfare and sustained counter-insurgency operations. American veterans of the conflict at all levels cite early failure to understand cultural norms and traditions of the various populations in Afghanistan as prime source of the ultimate failure. Information Operations has been stressed as a critical component to all future engagements.
Another criticism of US military doctrine during this era is the high level of political pressure field commanders were under when determining strategy. Too much civilian oversight from Washington often unduly restricted operations, causing slow, uneven tempo, wasted opportunities and poor decisions that often cost lives.
Mathew Borton is a former active duty Marine and a student of policy, strategy, and conflict. The things he writes about usually have the “cyber” prefix.