Eight years in, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is as murky as ever. Dismayed by the country's downward spiral, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ousted the top U.S. commander, General David McKiernan, less than midway through his two-year term. His replacement, General Stanley McChrystal, drew plaudits for recalibrating military strategy, but his request for additional troops to battle Taliban militants forced President Obama to spend months grappling with whether to double down on a war that could not be cleanly won. On Dec. 1, Obama announced that he would commit 30,000 additional troops to the conflict and stated his intention to begin drawing down U.S. forces in July 2011 a decision that came in the wake of a bracing reminder that his primary Afghan ally left much to be desired. President Hamid Karzai won a second term in November when his primary rival bowed out of a runoff that was brokered by the U.S. after the August ballot was blighted by rampant fraud. October also hammered home the costs of the conflict: 59 U.S. troops were killed, making it the deadliest month since the war started in 2001.