us soldier Afghanistan Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Agonizing over Afghanistan

The Taliban have concluded that it is only a matter of time before the United States grows weary of stationing troops in a far-off country and spending $45 billion a year on a war that cannot be won. They may well be right.

NEW YORK – After more than 17 years, the time has come to accept two important truths about the war in Afghanistan. The first is that there will be no military victory by the government and its American and NATO partners. Afghan forces, while better than they were, are not good enough and are unlikely ever to be capable of defeating the Taliban. This is not simply because government troops lack the unity and often the professionalism to prevail, but also because the Taliban are highly motivated and enjoy considerable backing at home and from Pakistan, which provides it critical support and sanctuary.

The second truth is that peace negotiations are unlikely to work. Talks have taken place on and off over the years, but diplomacy is never far removed from facts and trends on the ground. Both work against a negotiated settlement.

The situation on the ground is something of a slowly deteriorating stalemate. The government controls territory where an estimated two-thirds of the population lives. But the Taliban and even more radical groups, including those associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, control or contest nearly half the territory and have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to attack military and civilian targets alike anywhere and everywhere inside the country, including the capital, Kabul.

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