The Obama administration -- consumed with a faltering U.S. economy, abysmal unemployment numbers, a blooming federal deficit and ever-higher prices for food and energy -- has failed thus far to make the case for persevering in the shadows of the Hindu Kush.
Recent opinion surveys and polls indicate that American public support -- and therefore congressional support -- for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has diminished rather than risen since the bin Laden operation. And now the rising costs and uncertain outcome for the protracted U.S.-NATO operation in Libya make the task of maintaining political support for the Afghan mission an even greater challenge.
The Karzai government in Kabul hasn't been much help in altering a growing perception of failure. Afghanistan's problems with corruption, venality, incompetence and opium production have overshadowed successes on the battlefield. The failure of Afghan leaders to establish a functioning judicial system at any level of government remains a major impediment to establishing rule of law throughout the country.
These issues have become the principal focus of lawmakers and military and political leaders in Washington and NATO capitals. Leon Panetta, the next defense secretary; Ryan Crocker, our new ambassador in Kabul; and David Petraeus, the soon-to-be CIA director, should expect these issues to persist -- no matter how many troops Obama decides to withdraw in the next few days.
The "negatives" are real, but they obscure some dramatic successes. In the eight months since our Fox News' "War Stories" team returned from our most recent deployment to Afghanistan, an additional 20 percent of the Afghan population has been liberated from Taliban control. Helmand and Kandahar provinces -- once strongholds of the Taliban movement -- are now largely under the jurisdiction of the Afghan National Security Forces and their International Security Assistance Force partners.
Seeing as the Obama administration would be unlikely to wait for a report from a new study group, the growth in size, skill and competence of ANSF soldiers and police ought to be the most important factor in determining how many U.S. troops to withdraw -- and how quickly. Over the course of the next few weeks, our "War Stories" team will be in Afghanistan to evaluate ANSF effectiveness in providing protection for their countrymen from internal and foreign enemies. That may well be, after all the blood and treasure we have expended, the best definition of victory in Afghanistan.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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