Simply put, our elected officials and senior level military leaders were trapped by their own intellectual inertia, condemning us to eventual defeat.
On September 12, 2001, the day after 9/11, I briefed my platoon and the commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Unit One in Guam on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As the SEAL intelligence specialist for the platoon and a lifelong student of history, warfare, terrorism, and insurgency, I covered the recent and not so recent history of Central Asia from the perspective of, although I did not use these exact words at the time, understanding the nature of the conflict in which we were about to engage. Today’s outcome was obvious to a twenty-something E-5 shooter in the SEAL Teams, which begs the question, how was it not obvious to those policy makers and senior level military leaders whose job it was to understand the strategic level implications of their decisions?
Without an intricate understanding of Afghanistan, its history, people and culture, an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in defeat was inevitable. That inevitability could only have been thwarted through studying the past, heeding its lessons and applying them to the conflict. The 19th and 20th centuries were replete with case studies — case studies that were ignored.