The U.S. cannot win in Afghanistan because there is no Afghan partner. With 140,000 U.S. and allied troops on the ground, NATO has taken territory from the Taliban. But sooner or later the Afghans will have to fill in with an Afghan army to provide security, a police force to ensure law and order and a government to provide honest administration and thereby win over the local population. These elements do not exist and cannot be created by the current Afghan regime.
President Hamid Karzai runs a country that Transparency International ranks as the second most corrupt in the world. One Karzai brother helped engineer the sweetheart deals that precipitated the collapse of Afghanistan's largest bank, and another, since assassinated, was reportedly involved in the drug trade and possible deals with the Taliban. Inside Afghanistan, Karzai is derided as being little more than the mayor of Kabul, while the outside world sees him as an increasingly erratic leader. Just before a scheduled visit with President Obama last year, Karzai accused the U.S. and the U.N. (and me personally) of rigging the elections that secured his second term. He then threatened to join the Taliban. Thanks to obvious fraud in those elections, many Afghans rightly see Karzai as an illegitimate President.
The U.S. has spent tens of millions of dollars on anticorruption programs, with no visible improvement to an Afghan government that U.S. officials privately compare to a criminal syndicate. In the contested southern provinces, local power brokers prey on civilians, abetted by a U.S.- and European-trained police force that is most effective at shakedowns. Successful counterinsurgency depends on a local partner. The Obama Administration should stop pretending that Karzai is that partner. They should stop spending money and lives on a strategy that, by its own logic, won't work.
Galbraith was deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan in 2009