01/11/2013 06:15 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2013

One Is Too Many

Now that the president has met Hamid Karzai concerning our future in Afghanistan, he will meet with his advisers to determine the level of U.S. involvement after the withdrawal of our main combat force. How many troops should we leave behind? The answer is simple: none.

The United States justified a 12-year involvement by building on the presumption of steady gains. Cheerleaders in Congress and the State Department, abetted by the pronouncements of top military officers either blatantly misstating facts or utterly out of touch, have continued to insist that the security of the United States was being safeguarded by a misapplied counterinsurgency campaign that had no chance of success in a nation of tribal illiterates ruled by a criminally corrupt government.

President Obama has had the courage to extricate us, but he must now go all the way. The Afghan security forces have shown only modest improvement after 10 years of vigorous efforts that tried to turn them into something resembling a modern military instrument. Illiteracy and indiscipline remain endemic, and there is no indication that attempts to vet enlistees can differentiate friend from foe. The result has been an increasing number of green-on-blue attacks, where Afghans in uniform kill our troops and those of our allies. They also shoot other Afghans in uniform.

Our troops have been in jeopardy when tens of thousands of their brothers and sisters were around them. What would it be like if only a few thousand were left behind? They would be in a country to carry out exactly the missions at the top of the insurgents' "to do away with" list, counterterrorism and training of Afghan soldiers and police. Each of our people would have a target painted on his or her back.

There is no reason to believe that our civilians would be any safer. Another Benghazi would be a distinct possibility, and there is no reason to believe that a government that has turned on us publicly on many past occasions will come to our rescue if such action were to create the least political inconvenience. It is unfortunate that a State Department presence is inevitable. We need to guarantee adequate protection.

It is time to mourn our losses and learn from our mistakes. Afghanistan's future was always across the border in Pakistan. We knew it, could do nothing about it, and decided to ignore it. We have always been aware that Pakistan's intelligence service had close ties to the Taliban. We have always known that, under the best of circumstances, the Pakistani Army was incapable of cleaning out insurgent strongholds in western Pakistan. And yet, our military leaders sent our men and women into deaths traps, knowing full well that by not being able to pursue the enemy across the border, victory was impossible.

Perhaps those who died early on lost their lives justifiably. We're long past that. We now approach the tragic moment when someone will be the last American soldier to die in Afghanistan. I do not envy the task of those who have to notify and try to comfort the family of that last lost soul. Even more, I would not want to have to justify that loss. The longer we postpone that last awful moment, the harder it will be to explain, and the more young men and women we will have to mourn.