Afghan Stalemate Remains as Pentagon Defends Mission

The Afghanistan War remains a “strategic stalemate” 18 years after it began, the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer said Dec. 20, defending the conflict’s main mission as successful from the beginning.

“This is a very difficult, complicated situation,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said during a press briefing. “Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who have given their lives in Afghanistan have not given their lives in vain.”

Milley’s comments come after The Washington Post published the “Afghanistan Papers,” thousands of documents from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that detail interviews with hundreds of officials involved in the US-led war. The documents show how officials made rosy but false claims about the war’s progress, deliberately hiding accurate information from the public.

Milley told reporters he does not believe the Pentagon deliberately lied as the war evolved. From the beginning, the goal was to prevent Afghanistan from being a platform to launch more terror attacks on the US following Sept. 11, 2001, and that has succeeded so far, he said.

The Pentagon has made clear the US cannot claim a traditional “victory” in Afghanistan, Milley said, and the parties won’t sign a treaty on a US ship such as when Japan surrendered at the end of World War II.

“There’s only one way this is going to end,” Milley said. “It’s a negotiated solution with the Taliban” and other Afghans.

The Afghan government will not militarily beat the Taliban, and the Taliban will not overtake the local regime as long as it’s backed by US and international support, Milley said.

US-Taliban peace talks were recently suspended following a Taliban attack earlier this month on Bagram AB, and American officials are hopeful the process could eventually continue. For now, the effort to secure Afghanistan goes on.

“We have a mission in Afghanistan, to ensure it never becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. “Until we are confident the mission is complete, we will retain a presence to do that.”