The Afghan endgame has so obviously gone awry. It is faltering in its strategic direction and purpose. The USA’s peace efforts remain stillborn. The US/Nato/Isaf combine is losing sight of its lofty aims and objectives and desired end state(s); it seems eager to “cut its multifarious losses and run.” Is it losing nerve and resolve?

The strategic connotations of the US leaving the AfPak Region (APR) without resolving the Afghan imbroglio would be patently disastrous and wide ranging. The Afghan situation begs a comprehensive all-inclusive regional solution that not only pacifies Afghanistan, neutralises terrorism and militancy, but also brings forth peace and stability, economic revival and development to this war-torn region - a challenging task the US appears unwilling or, perhaps, unequal to tackle.

Regardless, the US must finish the job it started itself. It and its allies, however, appear keen to pass on these onerous responsibilities to the “ostensibly well trained, well equipped and battle hardened ANSF” - its obvious inadequacies notwithstanding.

And this places the ANSF at the virtual centre of gravity of the post-2014 operational or strategic environment. On its success or failure appear to rest the prospects of peace and stability in not only the APR and the South Central Asian Region (SCAR), but also the world at large.

But can the ANSF deliver at the geopolitical or strategic levels? Seems unlikely. It is already facing almost insurmountable operational challenges, even with the US/Nato/Isaf combine supporting it fully. And with that support reducing drastically, post-2014 operations will become even more difficult to mount - the support of the CIA-MI6-RAW-Mossad-NDS and mercenary contractors like Blackwater and Xe notwithstanding.

Afghanistan and the ANSF face numerous multidimensional challenges. The primary challenge concerns ANSF’s organisation, operational competency and composition. Although the ANSF will reach its targeted strength of about 352000 troops (six corps and a capital division of the ANA, plus the ANP and the AAF) by 2014, yet its combat effectiveness will always remain in doubt.

At the moment, the ANSF is carrying out operations under the tutelage and oversight of the US/Nato/Isaf, which are also providing excellent training, combat support and leadership. But will the ANSF be able to maintain the same operational standards once the foreign forces have long left the Afghan theatre of war? Does it have the intent, capability, capacity and motivation to take on the genuinely battle hardened and fiercely motivated al-Qaeda and Taliban militants and yet persevere and prevail?

Secondly, the ANSF should represent the entire spectrum of the Afghan population. It does not do so. The Pashtuns comprise about 4 percent of the ANSF, which is miniscule once compared to its actual percentage (50-60 percent) in the population. This critical imbalance will strictly circumscribe its operational reach and capability, particularly while operating in the southern and eastern extremities of the country.

Thirdly, the Tajiks make up most of the officer and NCO class - the actual practical leadership levels in any military. There will be an obvious clash of interests here once the stabilising and pacifying presence of the US/Nato/Isaf has been removed.

Fourthly, the ANSF will require at least $4 billion plus a year to maintain and sustain it at the planned levels. Any Afghan government will find it difficult to generate the necessary financial support indigenously or from international sources on a consistent basis. Any cutbacks or even delays could cause a sudden collapse in the ANSF’s capacity to retain organisation and wage war against the terrorists.

Fifthly, the ANSF will be required to enforce the writ of the government by neutralising the numerous warlords and eliminating their fiefdoms and booming drug trades as well. There are bound to be clashes. The establishment of an effective omnipresent central authority in the whole of Afghanistan would become even more difficult to achieve.

And finally, the ANSF will have to take on the battle hardened and very highly motivated Taliban and al-Qaeda forces; forces the US/Nato/Isaf combine have failed to subdue in over a decade of frustrating efforts. It will have to display great courage, combat and leadership skills, determination and resilience. It will have to pacify, neutralise and/or eliminate the terrorists. The US and its allies have been unable to do so thus far. Will or can the ANSF fare any better?

The issues of militancy and terrorism have to be conclusively resolved much before the 2014 deadline. The militants have to be spoken to and pacified or engaged militarily and neutralised. We must have closure. Period. These elements are already finding their ways into the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, across the Mediterranean into Europe and may cross the Atlantic on to continental USA.

The Boston Marathon and Watertown tragedies, and the incidents of ricin-laced letters addressed to President Barack Obama and Senator Roger Wicker are condemnable and should be taken as ominous harbingers of dangers lurking ahead. These incidents make it imperative for the US and its allies to “close the loop” much before they egress the APR.

Failing which, only the battle fields will change; the battles and the belligerents will remain the same. There is no gaining in passing the buck in this battle. The buck will invariably rebound to hound the US and its allies. It is imperative beyond question that the issue be tackled and resolved today, here and now. There is no tomorrow in this battle against extremism and terrorism.

The US must bring the overall Afghan campaign to an amicable and acceptable to all closure. It must co-opt Pakistan (and Iran - ?) to find the clues to resolving this Afghan enigma. Its departure from the APR must be preceded by total peace in the region, pacification of the terrorist threat and the initiation of development and reconstruction plans for the APR.

Passing the buck now will be extremely counterproductive. It may even compel the US and its allies to revisit the region sometime not too far in the future; albeit in a far angrier and far more agitated state of mind and in a possibly far more hostile strategic environment.

    The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.

    Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).