Ahmed Rashid in the NYRB blog:
What will Afghanistan look like in 2014, after a dozen years of occupation, more than 2,800 NATO soldiers killed, and an expenditure of $1 trillion? If the participants in this week’s NATO summit in Chicago are to be believed, what they will leave behind is little more than a series of fortresses in enemy territory: Kabul and the other major cities will be protected by Afghan forces, while the countryside falls back into the hands of the Taliban. NATO leaders all but acknowledged that much of Kandahar and Helmand provinces—where 30,000 US marines had launched “the surge” two years ago to root out the Taliban—would quickly revert back to Taliban control once the Americans left.
President Barack Obama has said that the promise to end combat operations by next summer and withdraw all Western troops by 2014 is “irreversible.” In other words, whatever happens on the ground when authority is handed over to the fledgling, largely illiterate, and drug infested Afghan army will not stop US and NATO forces from going home. The 350,000-strong Afghan army and police will be downsized by 100,000 men—not because they are not needed on the battlefield, but because the West will not pay for their upkeep. “Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely,” Obama conceded while winding up the summit.
The US and NATO long ago abandoned any pretense that that they are trying to build a modern, democratic state in Afghanistan. But the lackluster meeting in Chicago showed just how far support for the Afghan mission has eroded in recent months. Now, even limited aims—like working infrastructure, a functioning civil service and judiciary, and basic economic stability—will be difficult to realize. Clearly there is a rush for the exits by Western leaders, but there is no Plan B to address worsening battlefield conditions and political crises if they occur.