I will admit that the President's decision to leave 5,000+ Soldiers in Afghanistan is disheartening. The fundamental problems of Afghanistan are simply not being addressed, and pouring money and retaining manpower is, at best, of limited help. First, we have to remember the recent history of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country defined by its terrain. It has been for millennia, but the most recent shaping history is that of the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain. The two empires raced toward that natural border of Afghanistan, and the history of Afghanistan swallowing British armies is sufficiently documented. What gets less shrift is the Durand Line, which, if it gets attention, is often treated like the Sykes Picot Agreement in the Middle East. Yet no two situations are the same, and terrain is what set the line of Afghanistan. The tribal areas left under first British and then Pakistani control were left there because these were the points at which logistics allowed the deployment of large forces to keep the tribes in line. Any further penetration required extended logistical lines and lines of communication that subject to steady harassment and great expense in keeping open. (Remember this as Pakistan refuses to attack Northern Waziristan and deal with the Haqqani network). If Afghanistan has taken on the modern moniker of the graveyard of Empires, it is certainly not because the country is unconquerable - it is simply ungovernable. The hodge lodge of ethnicities and tribes bear little fealty to a central government, one that, for most Afghans exists to handle external diplomacy. The few effective central governments were effective because they created a viable National Army, not to dominate, but to through their weight behind various tribes to maintain a balanced coherence. The Iron Emir is the last, and perhaps best, example of this. Lance was the key, not 'governance'. With the retreat if the Great Game, the situation has shifted enormously. The former Soviet States are happy to send in weapon and other equipment to their proxies and extract opium and other goods from Afghanistan. There is no strong Empire along the Northern border of Afghanistan to keep the tribes in line - and the cross border ties of the tribes facilitate trade that is far removed from the kinds that stabilizes. On the Southern border, the British Empire is no more. The partition of British India into Pakistan and India has left the Southern border of Afghanistan in the hands of Nation that is paranoid about India and believes it 'needs' Afghanistan for strategic depth against India (even as its forays into Afghanistan have faired little better than any other Nations ventures into that cauldron of diversity). That is what defines modern Afghanistan. The crux of our issues in Afghanistan are two fold, and the 'retention of a rump American force' does little to address either one. First, there is the rabid corruption. Not only is this wasted money, but the retention of officials that are rapacious in every sense of the world. If the USSR had problem, right from the get go, between Najibullah and Taraki, are exactly the foreshadowing of the difficulties between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Afghan politics has often been a zero sum game, and the grinding process of Afghan governance is a testimony to the grid lock of the two political factions - the grease of corruption moves things along ... but it also allows the rapacious to seize control of lower levels of government. When our strategy relies on bringing government to the people, and those who 'bring government to the people' bring little more than a desire to enrich themselves then we have a problem. Retaining a rump American force does nothing whatsoever to address this problem. It should be noted that the behavior of these lower government officials are, in many cases, the exact same behavior that lead to the creation of the Taliban in the first place. If the US, and indeed current government of Afghanistan has chosen to rely on balancing tribal factions, that must be contrasted with the approach of the Taliban whose reliance is not on tribes but on religion ... the only regional ideology that crosses tribal lines. It is precisely for these reason that we see them in relatively hostile areas like Kunduz in the North and in a growing expanse in their homeland the South. Again, what is the rump American force going to do here? Second, and perhaps far more importantly is the military dynamic that is playing out in Afghanistan. It is the same dynamic that plagued the Russians. The tribes in Northern Pakistan have an excess of young, unemployed men. Each year, a new batch of men ages and most have no options. Tribal leaders can either retain a bunch of malcontents, or they can send them North where most will die ad the few that return will be seasoned warriors and an asset to the tribe. It is, quite literally, a win-win situation for them. As a veteran, I watched this dynamic unfold year after year. The new fighting season was triggered by the new batch of men very often blowing themselves up as they placed their first tactical IED's. Darwinism weeded out the dumb ones pretty quickly. We killed may of the new comers in droves. Sometimes, we even got a few of the seasoned cadre, but this was the rare exception. The next year, the process started all over. A new batch was trained over the winter, and with the thaw of the passes headed North with their cadre. Many blew themselves up initially, many more died in combat with NATO forces. But always a rump survived to come back the next year. Whether it be the Quetta Shura in the West, the Haqqani Network in the center, of the or Gulbuddin Hekmatyars brutal forces in the East, the same dynamic plays out year after year. With the reduction in NATO forces, fewer and fewer Taliban are killed in the annual cycles and the ability to field greater forces is simply going to increase with each passing year. Pakistan has largely rolled up the Pakistani Taliban (in proof of the Druand line's viability), but they continue to facilitate the process of generating forces to send North. Our rump force does little or nothing to disrupt this process. The Soviets did exactly the same thing we are doing. Building up a central government, and retaining billions of support. Initially, just like today, there was some success but the central government collapsed. The country descended into warlordism (not for the first time) and the Taliban emerged. We have done nothing to disrupt this continual flow of an power and weaponry in Afghanistan, and our efforts to prod Pakistan into doing it for us have failed (and why would they simply give up on Afghanistan as the strategic depth they believe they need?). I am not sure what it is we hope to achieve in Afghanistan with this tiny residual force? A viable Afghan government seems as far away as ever. The Afghan Army is plagued by poor leadership, desertion, high casualty rates, a lack of enabling weapon systems (i.e. they are often out gunned), logistical challenges (not the least of which is entrenched corruption), and does not appear to be capable of exerting its influence in a large and increasing portion of the country. That is not good. Finally, there are those who would view the return of the Taliban (or some other similarly brutal insurgent force) as a disaster. That is not necessarily the case. The Taliban are the direct descendants of the Mujahideen that faced the Soviets in their war. There does not appear to be any Taliban force aimed at striking North toward Moscow. There is also the reality that these groups, when they come out the shadows are vulnerable. If they wish to govern, then govern they must. The well remember what happened in the opening days of the current wars when American B-52's reversed their years of brutal battlefield success in a matter of days. (Its public these days, captured Taliban Soldiers are resentful of Al Qaeda and what it did - all the friends it cost them; the lesson is not lost on the Taliban). They must come out of the shadows to reach their political goals. When they do, they are truly vulnerable. If the choice is between propping up a corrupt regime or allowing the Taliban to return (either integrated into the governance process or through other means), then we have a choice to make - or I daresay it will be made for us. I want to offer one final assessment. The Marshall plan cost less money in Europe that was devastated by WWII, and by 1956 those European powers were, if not their former Great Powers, then regional powers capable of not just defending themselves but projecting power in the Suez. That was 11 years. We are 14 years into Afghanistan, and we are still working on fielding a force that can defend itself. the Taliban don't seem to have that problem. What is our strategic goal in Afghanistan? What is it that we are trying to accomplish? Are our forces really aimed at achieving those goals? I for one cannot see any clear answers to those questions.