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A Costly Evolution

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
October 7, 2011
Time Magazine

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Ten years ago, American intelligence and military personnel went to war in Afghanistan to remove a government that refused to hand over terrorists who had successfully attacked the United States. The U.S. action was not simply one of retaliation; it was largely motivated by a desire to ensure that such attacks would not be repeated.

The goals of ousting the Taliban regime and ridding Afghanistan of most of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 hijackings were accomplished in short order. Nevertheless, American troops not only remained in Afghanistan but increased in number, ultimately reaching 100,000 under President Obama. The mission also expanded. U.S. soldiers fought not just the few terrorists they encountered but also the many Taliban who moved into and out of Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan. What began as a narrow, modest war of necessity evolved into a broad, ambitious war of choice.

It was a costly evolution. The Afghan war has claimed nearly 1,800 American lives and caused an additional 14,000 casualties. Direct costs are in the range of $400 billion and are increasing at the rate of $2 billion every week. It is only a matter of time before Afghanistan overtakes Vietnam as the longest war in modern American history.

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