Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- From media reports, it is now clear that America's hold on Afghanistan is unraveling and our military faces defeat. The recent rampage of an American soldier was the last straw for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the people of his country and war-weary American citizens. The Obama administration has begun searching for the exits, no matter the consequences.

Except that none of these things is true.

In the two years since the Afghan surge was announced, American forces have systematically cleared out insurgent strongholds in the Taliban heartland. Afghan forces have grown in numbers and professionalism -- showing admirable discipline and restraint following the recent Quran burning incident. About 90 percent of military operations now are conducted jointly by Americans and Afghans. During the last 12 weeks, the number of enemy-initiated attacks has been 25 percent lower than a year ago.

The horrible murders allegedly committed by an American have not changed American national interests: to stop the return of Taliban rule, to prevent the re-establishment of terrorist sanctuaries, and to limit the destabilization of Pakistan. A great power that makes momentous decisions based on the deranged actions of a single soldier would cease to be a great power. It would be a historical joke.

And national security officials in the Obama administration are actively combating the idea that they are planning a hasty or chaotic retreat. At a recent roundtable with reporters, senior officials made clear they have not been asked for drawdown options beyond the reductions that have already been announced. They dismissed reports to the contrary in The New York Times as unreliable. And they affirmed the need for a significant American residual force in Afghanistan following the 2014 security turnover -- both to conduct counterterrorism operations and to convince the Taliban that America can't simply be outwaited.

The Obama administration is taking a perfectly defensible military approach -- the steady, responsible transition to an Afghan lead. This strategy required an increase in American forces to halt and reverse Taliban momentum -- the surge that is now beginning to subside. It also involves a surge in Afghan security forces, now numbering more than 300,000 -- an expansion that can't be maintained forever for fiscal reasons. These overlapping surges are intended to allow the Afghan government time to build "sufficient and sustainable" security capabilities, while it pursues reconciliation with reconcilable Taliban leaders and conducts a 2014 presidential election.

This isn't easy. But it isn't hopeless. Given the stakes, President Obama is right to make the attempt.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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