The pervasive corruption in the Afghan government, the militant safe havens in Pakistan, and the "crisis of trust" between American soldiers and Afghan troops will likely prevent the Obama administration from achieving its goals. Fortunately, a sustained U.S. troop presence to deny al Qaeda a safe haven is unnecessary—in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Al Qaeda poses a manageable security problem that requires discrete operations, intelligence sharing, and surgical strikes when necessary.
Let us remember that in 2009, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, warned that without a surge of forces the conflict "will likely result in failure." The Obama administration tripled the American military presence and yet we have seen no meaningful turn around. A classified NATO report, "State of the Taliban 2012," said the Taliban's "strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact." And in separate dissents appended to the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, argued that the Taliban have shown no readiness to abandon their political goals.
Slowly turning over portions of the country to Afghan security forces implies that threats to Afghanistan's internal security will be resolved or substantially diminished in the next eighteen months. Such problems will likely persist, but do not threaten vital U.S. security interests.