One of the conservative criticisms of Pres. Obama’s withdrawal plan for Afghanistan is that it may threaten the "gains” achieved by the surge championed by Gen. David Petraeus, which begs the question, what gains?
Despite the elimination of mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which had symbolic significance, al-Qaeda has not been a significant factor in Afghanistan insurgency for more than a year. The Afghan Taliban, which has splintered into at least four factions that sometimes fight each other, appears to be as collectively strong as they were a year ago. What is not debatable is that overall security, the key indicator for most Afghans, has progressively worsened for more than two years. U.S. civilian development aid—$19 billion since 2002, yet paltry when compared to military spending—has accomplished little and may be contributing to rampant corruption, according to a two-year study by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The government led by Pres. Hamid Karzai is widely distrusted and vilified by Afghans and is effectively non-existent in many areas of the country. The banking industry, after an epic and still unfolding scandal, is in tatters and the International Monetary Fund has delayed transfers of assistance until financial regulations of the nation’s 17 commercial banks are improved. The parliament, which has been attempting to assert its independence from Pres. Karzai, is now approaching a meltdown after a special court recently ruled that nearly a quarter of the members were elected fraudulently in the last election. While election deceit was rampant, many parliamentarians perceive the court ruling as an attempt engineered by Karzai to replace the ousted legislators with ones more supportive of the president.
Finally, the legal economy is utterly dependent on outside aid. The same U.S. Senate study that was critical of the civilian aid estimated that 97% of the Afghan gross domestic product was generated by spending on foreign troops and aid efforts.