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Published: Tuesday, 12/18/2012

Afghan exit

The case remains persuasive for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, ahead of the timetable planned by President Obama.

The United States has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan; they are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2014. But American and Afghan officials are discussing a proposal to keep as many as 15,000 troops past 2014.

Their roles would likely be in training and supply. But they also would guarantee the security of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, and his associates against increased aggression by the Taliban as U.S. force levels drop.

Corruption remains endemic in Afghanistan. High-ranking Afghans, including relatives of the president and the first vice president, used Kabul Bank — once the country’s largest financial institution — to divert nearly $1 billion furnished by the United States for government employees’ salaries, sending much of it out of the country. The Bank of Afghanistan seized Kabul Bank in 2010, but few prosecutions followed.

A new Pentagon study of the Afghan military indicates that after years of training, supply, and other backing by U.S. and NATO forces, only a fraction of Afghan forces can fight independently, without foreign air and military support. Just one of 23 Afghan National Army brigades is considered battle-worthy.

The plan to train Afghans to defend their country after the U.S. withdrawal isn’t working. Neither is the plan to create an Afghan economy that could be the foundation of growth and development.

The Taliban are free to act in spite of U.S. military actions against them, including the use of drones and the loss of more than 2,100 U.S. lives.

America appears to have done as much as it can in Afghanistan. Future oversight to make sure that al-Qaeda doesn’t resume using Afghanistan as a base should proceed from another venue. U.S. troops should come home next year.

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