Steve Chapman

Instead, he was told that the Taliban "controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot" of coalition military bases. "I observed Afghan security forces collude with the insurgency." He found American officers "who had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area."

The mutual ill will has become deadly. Two American officers were shot to death last week at the Afghan Interior Ministry, which is supposed to be one of the safest places in Kabul. But for U.S. military personnel, there are no longer any safe places.

Even official assessments of the war are discouraging. In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper predicted the Afghan government will make "incremental, fragile progress" this year, while noting the persistence of "corruption as well as poor leadership and management" in the police and army.

Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the committee that "the Afghan government will continue to struggle to fill the vacuum" left by coalition troops. The Afghan defense minister predicts "catastrophe" if the U.S. proceeds with plans to reduce the size of the Afghan force after 2014.

That leaves us in a catch-22: We can't bring peace and good governance to Afghanistan unless we stay a lot longer, but the longer we stay the more resentment and resistance we provoke. At this point, a U.S. officer who works on Afghanistan told McClatchy Newspapers, "Afghans hate us, and we don't trust them."

Americans who lived through Vietnam recall the image of helicopters evacuating our embassy personnel from Saigon as the enemy closed in. We may get to do the same thing in Kabul -- but this time under fire from our friends.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate