No Easy End to America's Longest War

Two U.S. Green Berets were killed during combat operations in Afghanistan last week. The deaths of Master Sgt. Luis DeLeon-Figueroa and Master Sgt. Jose Gonzalez brings the total number of U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan this year to 14, the most since 40 American troops died there in 2014.

Donald Trump is the third U.S. president to face the tricky task of trying to end the war in Afghanistan, which is now approaching its 18th birthday after U.S. troops first invaded and removed the Taliban from power in the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. To that end, the Trump Administration continues holding talks with the Taliban in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow most U.S. troops to leave the country.

The U.S. currently has between 13,000 and 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. President Trump would like to reduce that number, but he is treading very carefully. "He's 'negotiating' with the Taliban, but he has no illusions about these people," says Jeffrey Addicott, terrorism expert and professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "He's trying to find the best way to declare victory and to withdraw."

But withdrawing too quickly could risk allowing Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of terrorists, like it was before 9/11. "The (terrorist) caliphate itself, in terms of them forming a nation so to speak, that has gone away and been defeated, but as an ideology, no, it hasn't gone away...and it's going to be difficult," says Maj. Gen. Bill McClain (Retired). "Al Qaeda were unrestrained in Afghanistan before 9/11, and that's where the issues with September 11th came about."

Still, Addicott predicts Trump will make more progress toward ending the conflict than his predecessors did. "(Trump) will be drawing down our forces by the end of this year to probably well below 8,000, in my opinion," he says. "And that is just to leave some type of a presence there."

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