Now, according to the Times, the best case scenario has been reduced to on in which, as a result of NATO’s training and armaments, “the Taliban find the Afghan Army a more formidable adversary than they expect and [will] be compelled, in the years after NATO withdraws, to come to terms with what they now dismiss as a ‘puppet’ government.” Some would see that as another in a long line of optimistic assessments. The Afghan security forces, or at least its ethnic Tajik core, may well find the political will to fight the Pashtun-dominated Taliban, and the means to prevent themselves from being overrun. But it’s a safe bet that the security forces will control considerably less Afghan territory than NATO forces currently do.

And once it is clear that even a raging Taliban insurgency is no longer considered an obstacle to the departure of U.S. and allied combat units, the rationale for staying even through 2014 becomes murky. Already there’s been talk of having little more than a residual force of trainers and special forces in place by the time the withdrawal deadline arrives — and that such a force would stay beyond the deadline, anyway. NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen conceded in an interview with the Guardian that the Alliance is considering an earlier withdrawal, its morale battered by ongoing “insider” attacks, which in this year alone have seen more than 50 alliance troops killed by members of the very Afghan forces they’re mentoring.