There is substantial concern about our course in Afghanistan, in part because of the recent disruption in our military leadership, but also because gains in governance, development, military training, and other areas have not occurred at a pace that boosts confidence in President Obama's original timetable. Some security improvements have been achieved and more are likely to follow, but they have been hard won. In six months, the president expects a review by his commanders on the status of our efforts in Afghanistan. This review presumably would determine the shape of an expected transition of responsibilities to Afghan security forces in July 2011. But absent a major realignment on the ground, it is unrealistic to expect that a significant downsizing of U.S. forces could occur at that time without security consequences. This conclusion is reinforced by recent GAO and Inspector General reports that have raised deep concerns over the viability and quality of training for the Afghan National Army and police.
The lack of clarity in Afghanistan does not end with the president's timetable. Both civilian and military operations in Afghanistan are proceeding without a clear definition of success. There has been much discussion of our counter-insurgency strategy and methods, but very little explanation of what metrics must be achieved before the country is considered secure.
At some moments it appears as if we are trying to remake the economic, political, and security culture of Afghanistan. We should know by now that such grand ambitions are beyond our resources and powers. At other moments, it appears we are content with a narrow, security-driven definition of success: preventing an implacably hostile Taliban regime from taking over the government and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist safe haven, regardless of what government is in power.