How do we know when we have ‘won’?

Donald Trump sought to offer a new strategy for the Afghan War.

The president told us he intends to base our strategy on “conditions” rather than on “time.” We’re going to fight the Afghan War until conditions on the ground tell us we can disengage and that we’re no longer going to give our enemies advance notice of when we intend to stop shooting.

Fine, Mr. President.

I need to ask him, though, a question that has nagged me ever since we entered this war back in 2001: How are we going to know when we have “won” this conflict?

The war against international terrorism has established an entirely new benchmark from which our military strategists must work. They cannot keep beating the enemy on the battlefield and then simply declare victory. Terrorists have this way of receding into the darkness and then striking when we least expect it.

The Afghan War is being waged against Taliban and Islamic State terrorists who continue to resist at every turn. Al-Qaeda has been effectively wiped out in Afghanistan; indeed, it was al-Qaeda’s attack on this country on 9/11 that launched the war. Although that terrorist organization has been decimated in Afghanistan, it has plenty of other locations that will give it “safe haven” from which it can strike back — eventually.

The president has indicated that more troops are heading into Afghanistan. We’re going to send fighting men and women directly onto the battlefield, where they will work closely with Afghan troops.

The president was more correct in his assessment of the fight while he was running for office. He called it a hopeless and futile endeavor. I won’t agree with that entirely. My version of a better outcome would involve stepping up our training capability to ensure that the Afghan armed forces can defend their country effectively — without further on-site help from Americans.

Does this mean we stop fighting? Does it mean we simply give up, surrender and return Afghanistan to the bad guys? No. This fight is as complicated and complex as it gets. I am simply leery of any notion that we’ll ever know for certain when and how we can declare victory.

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