True exit: No residual force should stay in Afghanistan

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The United States is deep into the withdrawal from Afghanistan, after a 13-year involvement that has cost too many lives and too much money.

The pullout alone of troops and equipment could cost $6 billion and is complicated, given that military access to Afghanistan, a landlocked country, is either over land through Pakistan, with which U.S. relations are troubled, or by air through former Soviet Muslim republics, which is also expensive and watched over closely by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The Obama administration is still seeking Afghan government permission to leave 10,000 or more U.S. troops behind after the agreed-upon Dec. 31 withdrawal date, with debate continuing in Washington as to how many concessions the United States should make to President Hamid Karzai to get that approval. Mr. Karzai says he won’t agree to the request, as president, so it will have to be signed by his successor, who will be chosen in the April election.

If U.S. troops stay behind it will be to continue aid programs, shield contractors, train and equip the Afghan national army and pursue counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaida if it tries to come back.

The general fruitlessness of U.S. aid to Afghanistan was underscored again in a report this week by the U.S. special inspector for Afghanistan reconstruction stating that none of the 16 Afghan government ministries can be trusted not to steal or waste American funds.

Looking ahead, the Afghan army will either fight to keep the Taliban out or not. U.S. forces have been training them for years. As far as trying to fence off Afghanistan from foes who might plan an attack on the United States, the tragedy of 9/​11 was more than 12 years ago. Surveillance technology that would provide early warning of even planning for such an attack has evolved substantially since then; a U.S. presence in Afghanistan is no longer necessary for U.S. protection.

All things considered, President Barack Obama should leave no U.S. troops behind and complete a total withdrawal, the “zero option,” on schedule by the end of this year.

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