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Afghanistan is the United States’ longest war. Yet after 16 years of bloody fighting, there is no indication that Washington has a better sense of how to address that festering conflict. The administration of President Donald Trump is confronting the fundamental dilemma that he and his predecessor faced: how to end the overseas commitments that drain U.S. strength and resources without leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan and signaling a loss of U.S resolve.

Afghanistan has presented U.S. presidents with difficult choices since George W. Bush invaded the country in 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington The initial victory — the Taliban government was quickly driven out of Kabul, eliminating the safe haven that al-Qaida enjoyed — was squandered by a refocusing of U.S. efforts on Iraq. The diversion of resources to Operation Iraqi Freedom allowed the Taliban to regroup and reform.

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