Some in Washington charge that opposition to an indefinite presence or ongoing assistance amounts to abandonment, defeatism, and throwing up our hands and just walking away. Not so. It stems from a judgment of whether the benefits will offset the costs. Over the last four years, U.S. officials committed increasing levels of military and economic means without offering any hope of achieving a stable, political end. Whether the effort was “clear, hold, build” or “government‐in‐a‐box,” part of the problem was that Kabul’s interests and Washington’s were always gravely misaligned, be it on drone strikes, night raids, detention policy, regional relations, expatriate behavior, anti‐corruption measures, or foreign immunity. Those outstanding differences persist amid deeper questions over how the coalition plans to reach a broader political settlement and stem the country’s slide toward civil war during its planned transition and the country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
Current efforts to train Afghans to fight the insurgency on their own cuts America’s own costs considerably. Still, shifting from a combat to a support function should not imply a commitment of resources either indefinitely or without scrutiny. As the International Crisis Group revealed in an October report, powerful patronage networks in Kabul’s defense and interior ministries have factionalized the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), reduced the effectiveness of its officer corps, and produced friction among its rank‐and‐file. From the mouth of a veteran Afghan security official: “People in the army and police are fighting for their factions, not the country.”