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Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint ahead of today's presidential elections earlier this week in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

The U.S. is in a remarkably precarious position with respect to Afghanistan and has no good choices. It and its allies attacked Afghanistan a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, after the Taliban refused to surrender members of al-Qaeda. After the invasion, Afghanistan was promoted as an example of how the U.S. could create a democracy and improve life in a very troubled part of the world.

Now, 18 years later, the U.S. has been able neither to defeat the Taliban nor to create a stable and competent government in Kabul. Nor is there a capable military force to defend against the advancing Taliban, who already control half of the country and attack daily.

With its democracy-building and vanquishing of al-Qaeda and the Taliban having failed, the U.S. now finds itself between Scylla and Charybdis. Whatever it does, there will be a heavy cost.

That payment will be literal if it decides to retain troops to keep the Taliban from overrunning the Kabul government. The American public and politicians may be weary of paying for their country’s longest war.

If the Americans decide to leave, however, there will be another steep price to pay that must be given serious consideration. If the Taliban reconquer Afghanistan, as they almost inevitably will in such a scenario, there is no avoiding the reality that we can consider ourselves to be back at Sept. 10, 2001, and the status quo ante.

Then Americans must ask the very penetrating question, “What was it all for?”

James Clark, Lincoln

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