The Lessons of the Afghan War That No One Will Want to Learn

At the best of times, the U.S. tends to rush out heavily politicized studies of the lessons of war that are more political ammunition than serious analyses, and while these are followed by long formal studies that are often quite good, they then are often ignored as the flow of events moves on. These are scarcely the best of times. The collapse of the Afghan government and forces has occurred during one of the most partisan periods in American politics, followed by a totally different kind of conflict in Ukraine, all while the U.S. focus on terrorism and regional conflicts that began with 9/11 has been replaced by a focus on competition with nuclear superpowers like Russia and China.

The very fact that the war stretched out over two decades has meant that much of the focus on lessons has ignored the first half or more of the war, and the almost inevitable chaos following the U.S. decision to withdraw has led to the focus on the collapse of the Afghan forces and the central government rather than on the actual conduct of the war – and few within the U.S. government now want to rake over the list of past mistakes that turned an initial tactical victory into a massive grand strategic defeat.

This report entitled, The Lessons of the Afghan War that No One Will Want to Learn, is available for download at

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Emeritus Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has written and directed numerous books and studies for CSIS; was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service medal; and served in senior positions in the National Security Council, State Department, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of Energy, and staff of the U.S. Senate.