Edited from AP — It was what President Barack Obama called a “war of necessity,” a conflict thrust upon America by the 9/11 attacks. As NATO’s mission here winds down nearly 11 years later, the insurgents remain undefeated, corruption runs rife and the peace process is stuck in the sand.

Edited from AP — It was what President Barack Obama called a “war of necessity,” a conflict thrust upon America by the 9/11 attacks. As NATO’s mission here winds down nearly 11 years later, the insurgents remain undefeated, corruption runs rife and the peace process is stuck in the sand.

Such is the bleak reality of Afghanistan as Obama and leaders of about 60 countries and organizations meet Sunday and Monday in Chicago to map their way out of an unpopular war. The goal is to develop a strategy that does not risk a repeat of the chaos that followed the Soviet exit two decades ago, which paved the way for the rise of al-Qaida.

With none of the NATO countries having the stomach to pursue the war much longer, the only viable option is to leave behind an Afghan army and police force capable of defending the country against the Taliban and its allies after the NATO combat mission is declared over at the end of 2014 and most of the coalition troops leave.

“Our security forces last year cost $6 billion while our national revenue was $1.7 billion,” said Ashraf Ghani, head of a commission overseeing the process of passing the baton to the Afghan forces. “Investment in our security forces is part of an investment in international security.”

Support for the war has eroded in Europe and hit a new low in America. Only 27 percent of Americans say they back the effort while 66 percent oppose the war, according to an AP-GfK poll released earlier this month.

“This is not a charity that we are receiving,” said Jawed Ludin, deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan. “Afghanistan is and will be on the front line of the world’s fight against terrorism. We Afghans will be making sacrifices for years to come in what is essentially an international war.”

He cautioned donors against trying to place conditions on the pledges. Making development and reconstruction aid conditional on the government’s ability to fight corruption, for instance, might be acceptable, but not so with money to finance the security forces, Ludin said.

Foreign troops have begun their exodus — 33,000 Americans alone, or about one-third of the current U.S. force in Afghanistan, will be gone by the end of September. After most of the 130,000 international troops withdraw by the end of 2014, many Afghans fear their country will descend into civil war.

The Taliban continue to carry out spectacular suicide bombings and assassinate government workers and officials. A top member of the Afghan peace council was gunned down this month in the heavily guarded capital, Kabul, dealing another setback to the stalled effort to make peace with militants. In September, the head of the peace council was assassinated in his home by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

“The Taliban are trying to come back as rulers. I don’t think that they want anything less than that,” said Ismail Qasemyar, a member of the government-appointed peace council. “If there is no compromise or softening of their position, I think it will be very difficult to reach any agreement.”

The Taliban pick up support among Afghans fed up with rampant corruption and the need to pay a bribe for a simple service. Government dysfunction leaves other Afghans demoralized and looking for a way out.

More Afghans fled the country and sought asylum abroad last year than in any other year since the start of the war, suggesting that many are looking for their own exit strategies as international troops withdraw. From January to November, more than 30,000 Afghans applied for political asylum worldwide, a 25 percent increase over the same period the previous year and more than triple the level of just four years ago, according to U.N. statistics.

Although Afghans fear the worst after the international forces leave, the continued presence of foreign troops is also sapping morale among many Afghans.

“Listen to what the Afghans say,” says NATO spokesman German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson. “There is a hunger for sovereignty.”

There is some progress to report in Afghanistan.

Afghans have gained greater access to education and health care. More highways are being built, though most of Kabul’s streets are unpaved and deeply rutted.

Afghan police and soldiers have started taking charge of security in wide swaths of the country, though so far no area has fully transitioned to sole Afghan control.

“This isn’t a sprint,” said Brig. Gen. Richard Cripwell, who works on transition at the coalition’s headquarters in Kabul. “We are absolutely on track to meet the goals of the Afghan national security forces being responsible for security across the country by the end of 2014.”

The force is still plagued with graft and desertion, and many recruits can neither read nor write. Some Afghan forces have been accused of making side deals with the Taliban, yet many others have exhibited a sense of national pride and fearlessness in battle.

NATO is training a 352,000-member force, but the size is to shrink to about 230,000 sometime after 2015. The $4.1 billion a year will pay for the smaller force.

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