By: David Petraeus

What is the kernel of the issue?

Ending US involvement in “endless wars” doesn’t necessarily end the wars, it just ends our participation. And withdrawing US forces from the so-called “endless wars” against Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, could result in an escalation of the conflicts. If what transpires after our withdrawal poses renewed threats, America likely will have to re-engage and may face greater risks.

Why is the issue important?

We do need to reduce the costs of US involvement in these conflicts—especially with the need to focus on renewed great-power rivalries and to continue the strategic rebalance to Asia.

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should acknowledge that ending US involvement in endless wars doesn’t necessarily end the wars.  It also should recognize that new capabilities in intelligence fusion, precision munitions, drones, and other so-called “enablers” have allowed us to vastly reduce our forces’ engagement in combat and the attendant risks and costs. Keeping roughly 5,000 U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria to support local forces keeping the pressure on ISIS is sustainable, especially when one recalls that America needed 165,000 forces in Iraq during the “Surge.” A similar commitment of 5,000 to 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan with an additional 5,000 coalition forces also would be quite sustainable, recalling that there were 150,000 US and coalition forces there at the height of the war.  And, in many cases, sustained commitments will improve the chances for successful negotiations with adversaries.