WASHINGTON: Hanging in a corridor outside the Pentagon press office, a blow-up of a Time magazine cover shows a weary US soldier drawing deeply on his cigarette. Barbed wire and snowy foothills loom behind him.
The headline: "How Not to Lose in Afghanistan." The date: April 20, 2009.
More than eight years later, the Pentagon finds itself in the same quandary.
This time round, it is President Donald Trump looking for answers, just as Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him.
Having given Afghanistan little more than a passing mention as president, he is now being forced to confront the issue by a grim drumbeat of bad news and warnings from his generals.
Almost any year from its turbulent recent past can serve as a showcase for Afghanistan´s dire predicament.
Take 2016, which marked 15 years since the US-led invasion. Nearly 11,500 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the United Nations.
Adding to the carnage, local officials say, the Taliban and other insurgent groups killed about 7,000 Afghan security force members -- many of whom had been trained and supported by US and NATO experts.
Dan Coats, Trump´s director of national intelligence, hammered home the depressing point this week, warning that the political and security situation will "almost certainly" continue to worsen.
"Meanwhile, we assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas," he said.
Trump, who campaigned on an "America First" platform and a pledge to reduce US overseas involvement, must now decide whether to approve expected requests from the military´s top brass to send thousands more US troops back to Afghanistan.
Administration advisers are reportedly urging him to green light some 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, adding to the 8,400 already there.
The president is expected to make the decision this month, and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said his own recommendation would come "very shortly."