I've been resisting doing this post, but it's been taking up too much brain space lately. So here it is.
We need to win Afghanistan. What does "win" mean? It means denying al Qaeda a safe haven and keeping those who gave them safe harbor from regaining the country (for both security and humanitarian concerns). To do that means the Afghanis need to form a nationality, invest their government with the power to stabilize the country, and lay down their arms.
This is possible. The difference between us and the British, the Russians and the Soviets is that we have no interest in controlling the country as a colonial power or as a puppet state. If we are able to demonstrate to the Afghanis that a stable government is possible, that they will benefit, and that we support them in comparison to only supporting the central government it will happen.
The hurdles that need to be dealt with are legion. The Karzi government is weak, lacks legitimacy, and is rife with corruption and cronyism. The native military is considered aligned with the Pashtun and is generally seen as still being controlled by the warlords. The police force is not much better. The Taliban are resurgent including having shadow governments and courts in all the provinces. The country is land locked and we're at the mercy of SoFA's with its neighbors, some of which are no better, some of which were bullied by the Russian government to cancel our leases (which we convinced to change their minds through the diplomacy of the lucre). Our major partner in the theatre is more concerned with their long standing grievances and proxy war with our close ally in the region (whom we are also courting for closer bonds). Not to mention the median cost estimate to field a combat soldier in country is about $500,000 (some of that is support costs of the other soldiers in those neighboring countries). And the country is war weary (actually, this is the most important factor).
However, what's at stake is more important. If we were to pull out it wouldn't be long before the Karzi government was toppled, and probably by the more radical branches of the Taliban. We screw over the Afghanis for a second time (or third, my brain is saying third, but I can't remember the time before the Russians). The Northern Alliance is compromised (Taliban, again, have shadow governments in all provinces). And not only would al Qaeda reclaim a safe haven, the Pakistani military would have no reason to reform and would again leverage Afghanistan and the "tribal" lands in their proxy war with India (which would heighten tensions between two nuclear powers). The world would return to pre 9-11 status quo, only the counter balancing powers would be weakened (and no, I'm not talking about our military). Oh, and did I mention a resurgent Taliban and their patron al Qaeda?
Things in our favor include the Afghanis themselves want something better, or to be left alone. They are also war weary (although they also have a warrior society). Their wants are relatively simple. We have no desire to control the government beyond doing the right thing for their citizens. They're tenacious survivors who, while a young population, have enough people who remember when things were better. Their major cash crop, opium, actually has a large legitimate market (although most Afghan Opium feeds through SE Asia into the illegal heroin trade).
So, it's doable. A hard job, and somewhat expensive. And, to paraphrase Colin Powell about a different war, we broke it, we own it. It's easy to blame people for taking their eye off the ball and screwing up the future, but that doesn't get us anywhere. It's now the job to finish this, and do it fast.Do it right, but fast.