In case you hadn’t noticed — and it wasn’t exactly front-page news — America’s eighth war commander in Afghanistan (and keep in mind that we’re only talking about this country’s second Afghan War), General John Nicholson, is about to be history. Sometime in the coming months, the ninth, Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller, who spent much of his career commanding Special Operations forces, will take over. The previous commanders included figures like generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who made more than their share of news, and ones like Nicholson’s predecessor, General John Campbell or General David McKiernan (back in distant 2009), whom no one today is likely to remember. But they each had one striking thing in common. Whatever they did, whether they were commanding a few thousand American troops or more than 100,000 of them, and no matter what strategies they employed, they were invariably succeeded by another commander.
And let me add one more bit of news. The Taliban, our original enemy there (along with al-Qaeda), was driven from the last Afghan provincial capital it held early in 2002, just months after the U.S. launched its invasion of that country. Only a couple of weeks ago, almost 17 years after the “liberation” of Afghanistan, the Taliban took Farah, a provincial capital in the west of the country, for a day. They now control or maintain influence in as much territory — almost half of that country’s districts — as at any time since 2002. The capital, Kabul, is practically under siege and casualties nationwide are on the rise. And that’s just to begin a list of the “successes” of the mightiest military force on the planet against groups of modestly armed Islamic militants more than a decade and a half after the “successful” invasion of the country.
Now, a small warning (not that the U.S. military or politicians in Washington really need such a caution): after a mere 16-plus years in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in American history, it’s important not to jump to rash conclusions. For that, you would undoubtedly need a far more extensive set of experiences (18 commanders?). In the meantime, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, suggests today, Washington’s war on terror simply stretches on into… well, infinity, without a new thought or a disconcerting question in sight.