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Afghanistan: Anatomy Of A War That Couldn't Be Won

Op-Ed: By now, we can call the US intervention in Afghanistan a failure. It's what happens when you go to into a drawn-out conflict without a plan B...and other lessons to be learned before the next war.

A U.S. Marine at Ranje Bala village, Farah Province
A U.S. Marine at Ranje Bala village, Farah Province
Ansgar Graw

"In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns," wrote legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in The Art of War. In Afghanistan, Western politicians should have heeded this two-and-a-half-thousand year old axiom from the oldest known book on the strategy of war.

As terrible as it was, the recent shooting spree by a U.S. army sergeant that killed 16 Afghan civilians is not the reason why the war in the Hindu Kush has been lost. The seed of defeat was already planted in the overblown political goals of a campaign without a plan B. Had the military engagement not been so naively overloaded, "Operation Enduring Freedom" wouldn't have dragged on for over ten years -- and the apparently severely disturbed American soldier wouldn't have had the opportunity to go on a nocturnal rampage slaughtering women and children.

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In The News

War in Ukraine, Day 92: Is Severodonetsk The Next Mariupol?

Russian troops are attempting to encircle Severodonetsk, the last key city remaining under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region, as Vladimir Putin looks to claim victory in a war that is not going Moscow's way. But will the toll be for civilians?

Inside a shelter in Severodonetsk.

Meike Eijsberg, Shaun Lavelle and Cameron Manley

Severodonetsk, the last key city remaining under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk area, is now the focal point of Russia’s war. In 2014, it had been recaptured from the pro-Russian separatists in a hard-fought battle by Ukrainian forces. Now, eight years later, Moscow is launching an all-out attack to try to take it back again.

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Alex Crawford, a Sky News correspondent in the region, says Russian forces have the means to conquer the city that in normal times has a population of circa 100,000 — and Moscow will be eager to cite it as the “victory”. But, Crawford wrote, “the path to victory comes – like the capture of the port city of Mariupol – strewn with the broken and battered bodies of the city's citizens.”

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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