It is an irony that the Afghan war was won within the first three months and yet it has been lost over ten years.
After the 9/11 attacks in New York, U.S. had a genuine reason to go after Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Within the first two weeks of invasion, Taliban were on the run and after Tora Bora, Al-Qaeda too was substantially decimated.
The war should have ended then. Taliban were weakened and had no hope of coming back to power, they melted away and became part of mainstream Afghan society. A massive development effort for Afghanistan (like the Marshall Plan) should have been initiated to rebuild that war torn country. That would have diverted attention from war to peacetime activities, created jobs, opened schools, markets and built the much lacking infrastructure. Afghanistan could have been brought out of the 15th century into the 20th century (if not the 21st).
History will record that continuation of war beyond the first few months and shift of focus from Al-Qaeda to Taliban was a major policy disaster of the Bush Administration. Fighting Arab and other foreign terrorists in Afghanistan is one thing, but fighting the local populace and that too, the majority Pashtuns (all Taliban are Pashtuns) is another thing altogether.
Afghan history is littered with ruins of foreign armies and so far none of the invaders have succeed. The breakup of Soviet Union following their retreat from Afghanistan is still fresh in our minds.
In foreign policy and war management terms, Bush Administration's early decision to impose rule by minority Northern Alliance over the majority Pashtun would prove to be a fateful decision that would prolong the war for more than ten years. President Obama's folly of owning a lost war and troop increases would only make matters worse. Also, the substantial increase in night raid activities under President Obama involving killing of Afghans, many of whom turn out to be innocent civilians is making matters worse. It is causing anger and providing impetus to Taliban in their recruitment. It is time that these raids stop and stop immediately.
Once it was clear that U.S. had no desire to bring the war to an end and Northern Alliance would continue to hold a lion's share of power, it became a Pashtun v non Pashtun war. America's continued alignment with Northern Alliance and its failure to bring aboard all stakeholders, especially the majority Pashtuns, gave them a reason to consider foreign troops as occupiers rather than as friends who may rid them of Taliban forever. Gradually, Taliban started to resurface, supported and financed by Pashtun leaders, many of whom play a double game - break bread with Americans and finance Taliban at the same time. Even General Petraeus admits that Taliban have an upper hand at this point. It has also been reported that US has taken more casualties in the last month alone than any other month since the war began. If this war is not brought to an end soon, Taliban will be emboldened even more and the outcome could be even worse.
One of the most disastrous policy decisions ever made by some brilliant minds in Washington, D.C. was to encourage Afghans to grow poppy again, the production of which had previously been eradicated under Taliban regime. Large sums of money started to flow in the hands of drug lords and barons once again and Taliban too found a stream of perpetual cash headed their way. Taliban, who by then were almost extinct started to rise from ruins like the Phoenix from the ashes. The increased revenue improved their morale and strengthen their resolve. They started to re-equip themselves and could even afford to recruit daily wage soldiers to bolster their ranks. While a number of factors have contributed to the outcome of war in Afghanistan, this decision alone has perhaps gone a long way in converting victory into defeat.
The strange thing is that even after ten years, U.S. and NATO have not understood the Afghan Society. Afghans have been warriors for centuries, they do not need military training. By now we all know that Taliban with their minimal training can give a fair fight to U.S. and NATO troops. If anything, Afghans need to be weaned off their weapons. To accomplish this, a major development effort is required. The Afghans have had nothing to do except fight for the last several years. They need to be put to work in factories, road & bridge building, school and market building etc., so they can begin to provide a decent living for their families without fighting wars.
US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this war and there is nothing to show for it. Afghanistan is still a war ravaged backward country. Rebuilding that country would have cost a great deal less and not so many lives would have been lost.
This war has already been lost and it is time to put an end to it and bring all soldiers home. Let the Afghans decide their own fate. They did it before the Soviet invasion and they will do so again after the withdrawal.