James Carafano: How will leaving Afghanistan help? 

It's 2021 -- 10 years on, the Kabul Declaration of 2011 isn't looking so good.

Despite warnings from many quarters that "conditions on the ground" made it doubtful the U.S.-backed government could maintain national sovereignty and domestic security, then-President Obama elected to withdraw U.S. forces from the war-torn nation. With vague assurances from Pakistan that Islamabad would press the Taliban to reconcile with the government in Kabul, Obama declared it was time for the United States to go and for the Afghans to determine their own destiny.

But the decision to pull out before the war was won precipitated a dramatic chain of events that continues to unfold a decade later.

Today, Afghanistan remains locked in a seemingly permanent state of civil war. As the southern-based Taliban battle the rump, Western-backed government in the north, the people of Afghanistan remain caught in the crossfire.

Al Qaeda returned with the Taliban. Within 18 months of the U.S. withdrawal, they had re-established the terrorist training camps that launched the 9/11 attacks and began a new wave of bloody attacks on the West that continues to this day.

Their success has re-energized Islamist radicalism movements worldwide. Meanwhile, the resumption of U.S. airstrikes on the camps has seemed to have little effect other than fueling complaints about civilian casualties from various international human rights groups.

The increasing violence quickly spread beyond Afghanistan. As soon as the Taliban were re-established in the south, the Kashmir insurgency flared to new heights, bringing Pakistan and India into direct military conflict and a hair-trigger nuclear standoff.

The bad news did not stop there. By 2010, organized terrorist networks in Indonesia and other South Asia countries had largely been dismantled. Now, supported by a terror base in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the networks were back and deadlier than ever.

At the same time, the American withdrawal and the region's growing instability convinced Beijing that it needed to solidify its influence throughout the area. China declared itself the protector of the South China Sea and "demilitarized" the region by prohibiting the transit of "outside" naval forces -- including the U.S. Navy.

Russia also took the U.S. withdrawal as a signal to solidify a security belt around its borders. Its annexation of part of the state of Georgia sent tremors through all Europe.

Russian expansionism and China's triumphalism inevitably led to renewed confrontations between these two powers. Meanwhile, India, living in an increasingly troubled neighborhood, abandoned its relationship with the U.S. and decided to follow China's lead.

The future is a foreign country. No one can say for sure how history will unfold if the U.S. abandons its mission in Afghanistan. Events might turn out better ... or far worse.

But the future sketched above is certainly possible and, many would say, probable. In all events, it's a future the United States must work hard to avoid.

Yes, there are ways to protect U.S. interests other than fighting and winning in Afghanistan, but these alternatives are fraught with even more difficulties and uncertainties and carry a price tag -- in U.S. lives and treasure -- that could run far higher.

In contrast, winning in Afghanistan will do wonders not just there, but in Pakistan and beyond. It will create the pressure necessary for Pakistan to: deal with the organized terrorists groups within its borders; help demobilize the Taliban; and recognize the importance of normalizing relations with India.

It will crush international support for Islamist terrorism. And it will serve notice that the U.S. can and will defend its vital national interests.

Winning does not offer a future without danger, but it offers the promise of a better world for America and its friends and allies.

Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation ( heritage.org)

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