When he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq so that resources could be redirected to the fight in Afghanistan. When Obama ran for reelection, he pledged to similarly end the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, the war in Iraq came to an end. Last December, the United States and its NATO partners marked the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.


On Thursday, President Obama announced that the United States will keep forces in Afghanistan even beyond his tenure as president, meaning that the war in that country -- or, at least, American troops -- would span at least three presidencies.

Until Obama wound down operations in Iraq and ramped up in Afghanistan, the former conflict used far more American resources. But Afghanistan has defied resolution. Reports from the Congressional Research Service detail the monthly build-up in the two countries and the deployment of contractors to support those troops from 2008 onward.

Iraq began with a huge investment that tapered off under the new president. The effort in Afghanistan ramped up under Obama, but it never completely tapered off. The United States currently has about 9,800 troops in the country, and is expected to have about 5,500 there after Obama leaves office. That's more than were in the country in March of 2002, when the conflict was just getting underway.

During Thursday's announcement, Obama again drew a line between the combat mission and the troops that are currently in Afghanistan. "While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures," he said.

Which reinforces that the delineation of the start and end of modern conflicts is subjective, lacking declarations of war and documents of surrender. Regardless, the 14-plus year-old conflict in Afghanistan is among the lengthiest in American history, depending on how you draw the boundaries of the fight in Vietnam. It seems obvious, though, that the end of the war in Afghanistan has not yet arrived.