Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, has refused to sign a security deal with the United States that could keep about 8,000 to 12,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan after "combat operations" end at the end of 2014. These forces would train still-pathetic Afghan security forces in the field (after 13 years of U.S. training), conduct counterterrorism raids, and guard military bases in eastern Afghanistan from which drone attacks against militants in Pakistan and monitoring of Pakistani nuclear weapons arsenal are conducted. Curiously, all of these residual missions resemble "combat."
Karzai is falsifying civilian casualties of American drone strikes in Afghanistan (make no mistake, there have been real ones) to make nice with Taliban insurgents, who he fears will be resurgent after the United States withdraws the bulk of its troops. Yet at the same time, he is trying to extract the last ounce of flesh from the United States in negotiations over the residual American force. And the U.S. military and intelligence agencies are doing their best to help him. After emphasizing that Afghanistan will fall apart -- like Iraq -- if all U.S. forces leave that country, the American security services leaked to the New York Times new arguments that a complete withdrawal from that country would also undermine both their drone attacks and nuclear monitoring in Pakistan. Good.
Perhaps monitoring Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not be so critical if the United States had not destabilized Pakistan with drone attacks on militants that occasionally kill Pakistani civilians. The U.S. 13-year nation-building war in neighboring Afghanistan and drone attacks into Pakistan actually helped create the Pakistani Taliban, which attacks the Pakistani government and is now plotting attacks on U.S. soil (the attempted bombing in Times Square in 2010). Continuing to destabilize Pakistan in order to bounce rubble to hit a largely decimated al Qaeda central group there seems like a bad trade-off.
As for the other residual missions in Afghanistan -- training Afghan forces and using raids to hit al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan -- they are either hopeless or unnecessary. If the Afghan forces remain lousy after 13 years of training by sizeable numbers of U.S. and NATO forces, they are unlikely to become better by being trained by far fewer such foreign forces. Also, U.S. intelligence admits that only a small number of al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan. Potential terrorists in other countries are a bigger threat (although this should not be exaggerated either), and remaining in Afghanistan saps resources from countering them in other places.
America's ungrateful, anti-U.S. ally in Afghanistan should have to face the music of his own making. Any substantial threat to the United States that emanates from Afghanistan or Pakistan can be dealt with from outside either country by America's global intelligence and military capabilities. Thus, the United States should unilaterally withdraw all of its forces from Afghanistan and force Karzai to face the Taliban. If the Taliban reasserts control over part or all of Afghanistan, the United States should accept that fact but warn the group that again harboring anti-U.S. terrorists on Afghan soil would bring swift and overwhelming retaliation from the air on any Taliban regime. The Taliban should be capable of learning from their previous mistake of harboring anti-U.S. attackers on 9/11.