Without the Afghans helping us in our mission, pretty soon we won’t know of anyone to target with drones, and our special operators will roam through hostile territory unequal to the inflow of terrorists. We need the Afghans’ help in this fight. They are giving a lot—and taking the casualties to prove it. But if we abandon them, they’ll stop.

Anyone wondering what Afghanistan will look like if we abandon the war or draw down troops too rapidly should look to Iraq, where a residual force would almost certainly have halted the current re-emergence of al Qaeda. Or to Syria, where more moderate forces are being increasingly overrun by hard-line Islamists. Or to Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has carved out territory and an operational headquarters to plan attacks against America. Or to Libya, where the facts about Benghazi are still trickling out, but where we know that an al Qaeda-affiliated group was behind the deadly attack.

The only talking point on Afghanistan that the American people have heard this election season is “2014”—as in withdrawal. But al Qaeda and its friends world-wide have heard that too. And it gives them hope that in two short years their heartland will be ripe for retaking. They know full well—based on U.S. actions from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria—that U.S. policy is to disengage, and that momentum is on their side.