Obamas Unfinished War

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2017-61-2-13-22
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23 Profsoyuznaya St., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation


Abstract. This article explores the role of the United States military in Afghanistan since the official end of the coalition’s combat mission. It explains why President Obama had to make a painful choice between pressing ahead with withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and abandoning his goal of ending the longest war in American history. Specifically, it focuses on major adjustments to the original drawdown plan outlined in May 2014, which the President made under growing pressure from the Pentagon, Republican lawmakers and much of the national security establishment in Washington. By doing so the President came under criticism for going back on his promise to bring home almost all American troops by the end of his second term. He was also criticized for handing off responsibility for the Afghan conflict to the next president, who will decide the size and scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan beyond 2017. Meanwhile, based on the current situation on the ground it seems that the Obama administration’s attempt to “sublet the war” to Afghan national forces has failed. As Afghan army and police forces can hardly contain terrorist and insurgent groups, the American military has to step in, thus blurring the line between assistance and direct action. Even so, the rapid spread of insurgency in 2015 exposed the limits of the U.S. and allied troop presence, mostly in an advisory and training capacity. Given the new developments in the country, especially the Islamic State’s growing presence and the Taliban’s dramatic gains including the seizure of Kunduz, it appears that President Obama will leave his successor a far worse situation in Afghanistan than the one he inherited eight years ago. Overall, without a clear strategy and bipartisan consensus on the way forward in the Afghan war, it is highly unlikely that a new administration will prevent the country from spiraling into chaos now plaguing Iraq. 

Keywords: Obama’s plan, Afghanistan, NATO, International Security Assistance Force, Resolute Support Mission, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces 


1. Is the Pentagon Telling the Truth About Afghanistan? The New York Times, 13.11.2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/13/opinion/is-the-pentagon-telling-the-truth-about-afghanistan.html (accessed 16.12.2015).

2. Rosenberg M., Shear .D. Obama Announces Halt of U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan. The New York Times, 15.10.2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/world/asia/obama-troop-withdrawal-afghanistan.html (accessed 13.12.2015).

3. Resolute Support Mission (RSM): Key Facts and Figures. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. December 2015. Available at: http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2015_12/20151210_2015–12-rsm-placemat.pdf (accessed 26.12.2015).

4. Statement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. U.S. Department of Defense. December 28, 2014. Available at: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/605332/statement-by-secretary-of-defense-chuck-hagel-on-operation-enduring-freedom-and (accessed 16.12.2015).

5. NATO Secretary General’s Statement on a New Chapter in Afghanistan. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. December 28, 2014. Available at: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_116341.htm?selectedLocale=en23 (accessed 23.12.2015).

6. Statement by the President on the End of the Combat Mission in Afghanistan. The White House. December 28, 2014. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/28/statement-president-end-combat-mission-afghanistan (accessed 20.12.2015).

7. Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America. May 1, 2012. Available at: www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/2012.06.01u.s.-afghanistanspaeignedtext.pdf (accessed 20.12.2015).

8. Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America. September 30, 2014. 31 p. Available at: http://mfa.gov.af/Content/files/BSA%20ENGLISH%20AFG.pdf (accessed 13.12.2015).

9. Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. U.S. Department of Defense. October 2014. 114 p. Available at: http://archive.defense.gov/pubs/Oct2014_Report_Final.pdf (accessed 20.12.2015).

10. The Secretary General’s Annual Report 2014. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. January 2015. 24 p. Available at: http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2015_01/20150130_SG_AnnualReport_2014_en.pdf (accessed 22.12.2015).

11. Donati J., Totakhil H.K. U.S. Special Forces Sent to Embattled Afghan Province. The Wall Street Journal, 16.12.2015. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-special-forces-sent-to-embattled-afghan-province‑1450280577 (accessed 18.12.2015).

12. Nordland R., Goldstein J. Afghan Taliban’s Reach Its Widest Since 2001, U.N. Says. The New York Times, 11.10.2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/12/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-united-nations.html (accessed 17.12.2015).

13. Brook T.V. Afghan Casualties Surged in 2015 Because of Increased Taliban Attacks. USA Today, 04.01.2016. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/01/04/gen-john-campbell-taliban-afghanistan/78262480/ (accessed 05.01.2016).

14. Annex of Statistical Information: Country Reports on Terrorism 2014. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. University of Maryland. June 2015. 14 p. Available at: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/239628.pdf (accessed 25.01.2016).

15. Global Terrorism Index 2015. Sydney, New York, Mexico City, Institute of Economics & Peace, November 2015. 111 . Available at: http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2015-Global-Terrorism-Index-Report.pdf (accessed 18.12.2015).

16. Garamone J. Dempsey, Ghani Discuss Transregional Effort Against ISIL. DoD News, 19.07.2015. Available at: http://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=129303 (accessed 16.12.2015).

17. Statement by the President on Afghanistan. The White House. May 27, 2014. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/27/statement-president-afghanistan (accessed 16.12.2015).

18. Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Carter and Press Secretary Cook. October 15, 2015. Available at: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/624501/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-secretary-carter-and-press-secretary-co (accessed 24.12.2015).

19. Mazzetti M., Schmitt E. In a Shift, Obama Extends U.S. Role in Afghan Combat. The New York Times, 21.11.2014. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/22/us/politics/in-secret-obama-extends-us-role-in-afghan-combat.html?_r=0 (accessed 16.12.2015).

20. Felbab-Brown V., Riedel B. Prospects for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Brookings Institution. Washington, D.C. University of California Washington Center. October 2014. 41 p. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/20141014_afghanistan_pakistan_stability_transcript.pdf (accessed 24.12.2015).

21. Flournoy ., Hadley S. Why We Need to Keep Forces in Afghanistan. The New York Times, 14.03. 2015. Available at: http:// www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/opinion/why-we-need-to-keep-forces-in-afghanistan.html?_r=0 (accessed 18.12.2015).

22. O’Hanlon ., Riedel B. A Decision NATO Should Not Make in Wales. The Wall Street Journal, 03.09.2014. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/09/03/a-decision-nato-should-not-make-in-wales/ (accessed 24.12.2015).

23. Ahmed A., Goldstein J. Taliban Gains Pull U.S. Units Back Into Fight in Afghanistan. The New York Times, 29.04.2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/30/world/asia/more-aggressive-role-by-us-military-is-seen-in-afghanistan.html (accessed 17.12.2015).

24. Rosenberg M., Schmitt E.U.S. Is Escalating a Secretive War in Afghanistan. The New York Times, 12.02.2015. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/world/asia/data-from-seized-computer-fuels-a-surge-in-us-raids-on-al-qaeda.html?ref=asia&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=*AfPak%20Daily%20Brief&utm_campaign=2014_The_South_Asia_Daily%202.13&_r=0 (accessed 13.12.2015).

25. Statement by the President on Afghanistan. The White House. October 15, 2015. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/10/15/statement-president-afghanistan (accessed 20.12.2015).

26. Jaffe G., Ryan M. Obama Considering Plan to Leave Significant Force in Afghanistan. The Washington Post, 05.10.2015. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-considering-plan-to-leave-significant-force-in-afghanistan/2015/10/05/16842a9c‑6b56–11e5-b31c-d80d62b53e28_story.html?postshare=2701444098277896&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=*Situation%20Report (accessed 16.12.2015).

27. Ricks T.E. Finally, Obama Gives Us the Small Afghan War Plan We Should Have Pursued in 2001. Foreign Policy, 15.10.2015. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/15/finally-obama-gives-us-the-small-afghan-war-plan-we-should-have-pursued-in‑2001/ (accessed 23.12.2015).

28. Statement by Foreign Ministers of NATO – Resolute Support Nations and Afghanistan. Brussels, December 1, 2015. Available at: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_125449.htm?selectedLocale=en (accessed 13.12.2015). 

Registered in System SCIENCE INDEX

For citation:
Shapiro N. Obamas Unfinished War. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2017, vol. 61, no. 2, pp. 13-22. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2017-61-2-13-22

Comments (0)

No comments

Add comment






Dear authors! Please note that in the VAK List of peer-reviewed scientific journals, in which the main scientific results of dissertations for the degree of candidate and doctor of sciences should be published for the “MEMO Journal” the following specialties are recorded:
economic sciences:
5.2.5. World Economy.
5.2.1. Economic Theory
5.2.3. Regional and Branch Economics
political sciences:
5.5.4. International Relations
5.5.1. History and Theory of Politics
5.5.2. Political Institutions, Processes, Technologies


Current Issue
2024, vol. 68, No. 7
Topical Themes of the Issue:
  • The Supporting Structure of Global Security
  • Institutional Features of the Fourth Energy Transition
  • The Evolution of Modern German Christian Democracy
  • The Monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia
Submit an Article
The Editorial Board invites authors to write analytical articles on the following topics:
  • changes in the processes of globalization in modern conditions
  • formation of the new world order
  • shifts in civilization at the stage of transition to a digital society

The editors are also interested in publishing synthesis articles / scientific reviews revealing the main trends in the development of certain regions of the world - Latin America, Africa, South Asia, etc.