The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday that the war has “turned a corner,” but the U.S. has a history of making the claim perhaps a little prematurely.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, proclaimed Tuesday during a Pentagon briefing that the tide was turning in a war that’s been dragging on for more than a decade and a half. Oddly, just several days prior, Nicholson admitted that the U.S. was in a stalemate.
The central problem is that these sorts of proclamations from generals and other officials have come down throughout the years to little effect. In fact, the exact same language used by Nicholson, namely that the war has “turned a corner,” has been employed repeatedly as the situation in Afghanistan has actually deteriorated.
In 2010, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then-top commander in Afghanistan, said he believed Helmand Province had “turned the corner.” Helmand later turned out to be one of the greatest disasters in the war, as the Taliban later made major strides in that province.
In 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declared that so long as U.S. forces hold on to territory recaptured from the Taliban, it’s likely that the U.S. will “be in a position where we can say we’ve turned a corner here in Afghanistan.”
In 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta insisted that the 33,000-strong troop surge ordered by former President Barack Obama had worked and rejected all criticisms that the strategy in Afghanistan was failing. He stated that “we have turned the corner” in Afghanistan.
Other officials and generals have followed the same overly optimistic line on Afghanistan for years, though not always in the exact same language.
All the way back in 2002, then-Army Gen. Tommy Franks said that the Taliban was gone.
“What a difference 10 months makes in a country like Afghanistan,” Franks said. “Taliban’s gone. You know they’re no longer executing people in the sports stadium downtown.”
“The sense of stability, while not having arrived yet in Afghanistan, is moving in the right direction,” Franks added.
As recently as June, however, Secretary of Defense James Mattis outright admitted that the U.S. is “not winning” in Afghanistan. In August, President Donald Trump authorized a new troop increase to the country to try his luck at success, which has been so elusive and yet over-promised as the war has dragged on for 16 years.
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