Finally, the United States could keep a force of roughly 7,000 to 14,000 U.S. soldiers, with European and other international partners. While this force size and posture is probably not sufficient to defeat the Taliban, it is likely sufficient to prevent a Taliban takeover of the government and control of urban areas. Washington’s goals would be limited: aggressively pursue terrorists that threaten the United States, prevent Taliban forces from overthrowing Kabul, and encourage a more sustainable and effective Afghan government. The Afghan government may not defeat insurgents in the near term, but it wouldn’t lose either.
Out of all the available options, this one is the least bad one. But President Donald Trump may be willing to play roulette in Afghanistan and gamble on withdrawal. He may hope that history turns out differently than the last time the Soviet Union and the United States abandoned Afghanistan in the 1990s, which indirectly led to 9/11. But the odds are stacked against him.
Seth G. Jones holds the Harold Brown Chair and is director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, dc. He was a senior advisor for U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan and is the author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (W.W. Norton).