In a particularly frank report, the International Crisis Group says that US policy in Afghanistan is failing. "The storyline does not match facts on the ground", its argues, adding that "successive US administrations deserve much of the blame for this state of affairs".
Afghanistan : Exit vs Engagement says that a decade after US engagement began, Afghanistan is best understood as "a complex system of multi-layered fiefdoms, in which insurgents control parallel justice and security organs in many if not most rural areas, while Kabul's kleptocratic elites control the engines of graft and international contracts countrywide".
The policy of providing billions in international funds has simple cemented linkages between corrupt government officials and violent local commanders. "From the start the policy was untenable; selecting some of the most violent and corrupt people in the country, stoking them up with suitcases of cash and promises of more to come and then putting them in charge was never a recipe for stability, never mind institution building".
Mistakes included shifting resources from Kabul to Iraq immediately after the fall of the Taliban, the absence of policy coherence between Washington and NATO, as well as between US civilian and military officials, measuring inputs rather than outcomes and not taking seriously the task of reintegrating and reconciling former fighters.
The failure to encourage anything more than a rudimentary justice system has exacerbated problems, allowing insurgents to fill the vacuum.
However, ICG is against a rush to the exit. This would lead to the collapse of the Karzai government, Taliban control of most of the country and growing conflict in neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan.
The report says that negotiations with the Taliban have little chance of success in the present climate and that the key is to improve security, justice and governance, although there are no quick fixes.