I have long agonized about Afghanistan, criticizing Canada's early departure, but also recognizing that success has been elusive. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis has far more experience and is risking his career shouting out his take on the war. The funny thing is his timing--the US is now rushing to get out of the Afghanistan business, so the message is not quite as crucial now. Still, it is another pin in the "everything is swell" balloon that ISAF, NATO and others keep filling.
To be clear, there is progress in Afghanistan--things are better in some significant ways. But the good works in producing some security here or other and some development in spots are entirely unsustainable. I still don't think Obama was wrong to try a surge and an effort to give Afghanistan a chance, but Karzai and the other P's of Pakistan and poppies turned out to be too much. There has been too much pushing against a successful outcome.
What people forget about counter-insurgency is that it is not just countering the insurgents in the field, but also building something that draws support or at least encourages folks not to help the insurgents. The Karzai government has failed to do that, no matter how much cash was thrown at the government, there seemed to be enough planes to carry that cash out of the country.
Pakistan has been just as unhelpful, even before its sovereignty was so thoroughly violated last summer in the quest to get Bin Laden.
Did we know this in 2009 when Obama was trying to decide on a new Afghan policy? Yes, which is why he took a great deal of time and care to consider it. Why didn't he just fold the tents then? It would have been politically costly at home and abroad. Now, everyone is heading out the door, having tried to do it right more or less for a few years. No country has the patience to be in Afghanistan for more than 12 years or so, especially with fiscal crises at home. Just as the Iraq surge only provided space for a political outcome that did not occur, the Afghan surge extended the clock by a bit but did not change the politics in Afghanistan or in the neighbors that matter.
The move now to Afghans plus Special Operations Folks seems like the only choice left. Keeping heaps of troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for the US and its allies is just not realistic. But entirely ditching the country is probably not realistic either. While I think a small footprint was a bad idea in 2001-2006, it is inevitable now.