The general assumption is that as Washington and Kabul work to hammer out a long-term security agreement, a way will be found to maintain a US troop presence after 2014.
The two sides have reached a preliminary agreement on a deal. But a key US demand - that its troops be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law and be tried only in the United States - remains a major sticking point.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has put the final decision on a deal to a Loya Jirga - a traditional gathering of tribal, ethnic, and religious leaders - that will meet and give its verdict next month.
Washington has made clear that the "zero option" of pulling its forces out entirely - as it did in Iraq after it failed to work out a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad - is a very real option.
... The United States would not keep a residual force in Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, nor would it maintain a counter-terrorism force there to pursue remnants of Al-Qaeda. Likewise, NATO would not keep a training mission, as that is dependent on Afghanistan and the United States reaching a security deal.
The absence of any Western forces would deprive Afghanistan's nascent security forces of much-needed assistance with logistics, air support, and intelligence.
A complete pullout would also likely see Kabul receiving much less of the $4 billion in annual military aid pledged by foreign donors to sustain the Afghan army and police.See also this commentary on the United States' inability to turn military might into tangible diplomatic gains.
The fact is that the current Administration has only been successful at one thing on the international stage--introducing instability. The military has been woefully misused over the last 60 years. There is a reason that the only war that was had a truly satisfactory outcome in the past 100 years was World War II--because it was fought as a total war, with a goal of unconditional surrender.