An American decision to pull out entirely could have two very different effects. It could demoralize the Afghan forces, who appear to think they cannot defeat or hold off the Taliban without American support. That could lead, some fear, to a complete Taliban takeover. But I don’t think the Taliban is eager to run most Afghan cities, after its past experience. It wants to push out the Infidel foreigners, and keep the Afghan forces constantly off-balance, but not take on what they previously discovered was the unhappy task of actual administration of those cities, where their strict rules, for example, about women led to all sorts of unintended and unwelcome consequences. They don’t want to take the blame for deficiencies in mundane things — in police and fire protection, in the running of the schools and hospitals, in garbage collection, in maintenance of infrastructure. The Taliban have always had their eyes on higher things, like imposing the Sharia, making sure that women are properly burqaed and submissive, that thieves have their hands chopped off, that homosexuals are executed. That’s what matters most to them.
A second, very different possible effect of an American pullout of its last 14,000 troops, is that it could make the Afghans realize that they must not count on help from the Americans forever, that 17 years was long enough, that Afghanistan is their country, and the fight against the Taliban is their fight. And that pullout might just work as shock therapy, strengthening their resolve to go on.
Afghanistan, like Iraq, has been a tremendous drain on American resources. Neither we, nor the Afghan army, have been able to destroy the Taliban in 17 years of trying. After all, its forces can find refuge, whenever they need to, in Pakistan, which despite its protestations to the Americans, has never stopped supporting the Taliban. And Iran, which has been the Taliban’s enemy in the past, especially after the Taliban killed eight Iranian diplomats, in an attack on the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-sharif in 1998, has more recently been supplying weapons, money, and training to the Taliban, in order to bleed the Americans still in Afghanistan.