Why it is difficult to withdraw from (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan….)

Leaving an unstable country in some regions is an invite to further international problems. This was the case with Afghanistan in the 1990s, which resulted in Al-Qaeda being hosted there. This was the case with Somalia, which not only hosted elements of Al-Qaeda, but also conducted rampant piracy. This was the case with Iraq/Syria, which gave the Islamic State a huge opening and resulted in them seizing the second largest city in Iraq. It seems a bad idea to ignore these areas, even though there is a cost to not ignoring them.

The cost of not ignoring them is one must maintain a presence of something like 2,000 to 20,000 or more support troops, Air Force personnel, trainers, advisors, special operations forces, etc. And they must be maintained for a while. It will certainly result in the loss of a few American lives, perhaps even dozens. It will certainly cost hundreds of millions to pay for deployment, security operations, develop the local forces, and to re-build and re-vitalize these areas. In fact, the bill usually ends up costing billions. Furthermore, these operations go on for a decade or two or more. The annual cost times 20 years gets considerable. We have never done any studies of “security operations” or “advisory missions.” The focus of our work was on insurgencies, but we have no doubt that these things tend to drag on a while before completion.

The cost of ignoring these countries may be nothing. If there is no international terror threat and no direct threat to our interests, then there may not be a major cost to withdrawing. On the other hand, the cost of ignoring Somalia was a pirate campaign that started around 2005 and where they attacked at least 232 ships. They captured over 3,500 seafarers. At least 62 of them died. The cost of ignoring Afghanistan in the 1990s? Well, was it 9-11? Would 9-11 have occurred anyway if Al-Qaeda was not free to reside, organize, recruit and train in Afghanistan? I don’t know for sure…..but I think it was certainly an enabling factor.

I have never seen a study that analyzes/estimates the cost of these interventions (although some such studies may exist).  Conversely, I have never seen a study that analyzes/estimates the cost of not doing these interventions (and I kind of doubt that such a study exists).

Hard to do analyze the cost of the trade-off if we really don’t know the cost.


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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