Nagging Questions About Afghanistan

President Obama’s speech on the Afghan/Pak War, and the annual policy review that accompanied it, paint a fairly upbeat picture of our progress since the surge.

We’ve made military progress in defeating the Taliban, especially in the south. We’ve degraded Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan. We’re ahead of schedule in training the Afghan National Army and Police.

But the nagging question the president failed to address on Thursday is what happens once we leave, whether it's in 2011 or 2014.

The two biggest problems in the war have nothing to do with the U.S. military effort; and everything to do with our partners. Will the notoriously corrupt and incompetent Afghan government in Kabul command the loyalty of the rest of the country if the U.S. is no longer there to prop it up? Will the Pakistani government root out and destroy the nests of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that currently enjoy safe haven in the tribal regions along the border?

And therein lies the tragedy. The American military effort, under the very able leadership of General Petraeus, has started to turn the fight around. But unless President Karzai and his cronies do what they have so far failed to do – form a strong central government - they are unlikely to hold the country together after we’ve left.

And, even if we were to rid Afghanistan of the insurgents and the Afghan government were to hold, we will not have destroyed the root problem unless we destroy Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan. They will merely bide their time until we’ve left, and then come across the porous border into Afghanistan.

According to the well-respected, former Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh, any gains the U.S. makes will only be temporary until the fundamentals change and the Taliban is destroyed at its core. According to Saleh, we need to “Demobilize them, disarm them, [and] take their headquarters out of the Pakistani intelligence’s basements.”

And herein is the dilemma – the U.S. cannot invade Pakistan to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda groups in Pakistan and the Pakistan government will not do so. The Pakistanis are hedging their bets. They know we can’t stay in Afghanistan forever, and think it’s unlikely the Karzai government will survive after we leave.

The Pakistanis want to make sure that they’re on good terms with whoever ends up on top in Afghanistan – whether it’s Karzai or the Taliban – so they are fighting against the Taliban at the same time they’re supporting it.

So as much as we want to succeed in Afghanistan, and as brilliantly as the U.S. military has performed, in the end victory or loss may not be up to us. A generation ago, we won the Vietnam War on the battlefield. But we lost it in Washington. We could win the Afghan War on the battlefield as well, only to lose it in Kabul and Islamabad.

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of's DefCon 3. She is a Distinguished Adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. Be sure to watch "K.T." every Monday at 10 a.m. on's "DefCon3" already one of the Web's most watched national security programs.