It has been seven years since Afghan forces supported by the United States toppled the Taliban and denied al-Qaeda the terrorist haven, training ground and launch pad that Afghanistan had become. Since then, there has been clear, substantial progress, including democratic elections, the liberation of growing numbers of Afghan women to take their place in public life, and clear improvements in health care and education.
But an honest assessment of Afghanistan must conclude that we are not where we might have hoped to be by now. While the country's north and west are largely at peace and improving, the south and east are riven by insurgency, drugs and ineffective government. Afghans are increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in building up their country. And the populations in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission are wondering how long this operation must last -- and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out.