It is difficult to see why Western troops are still serving and dying in Afghanistan so many years after 9/11, but there are good reasons for some troops to stay in the near future.
To be sure, Afghanistan is a benighted mess. The country is a pasted-together nation-state that has no modern, national identity after decades of war. Instead, a series of ethnic and political factions are trying desperately to carve out for themselves a piece of the pie. The American government has been trying, and failing, to foster a peace deal between Hamid Karzai's government and the Afghan Taliban, a group that has been closely allied with Al-Qaeda. But, Hamid Karzai presides over nothing more than Kabul.
America still has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, according to the ISAF website. All combat operations are slated to end by the end of 2014, but in fact, they largely already have. Western troops are now in light combat roles, working in cooperation with Afghan forces. (In this way, NATO troops have found themselves in morally ambiguous relationships with the country's usually uninspired police and army forces.) All other personnel fill vital logistical and support roles, without which the nascent Afghan National Army would surely disintegrate.
American citizenry, especially after Iraq, seem to have had enough of being involved in any kind of hot war. This is easy to understand, as only a committed observer has a hope of understanding the situation in Afghanistan; benefits of any kind of involvement are extremely obscure. A recent poll taken by ABC and the Washington Post shows that most Americans think the war was not worth fighting. The same poll shows a slight minority favor pulling out all troops after the drawdown date in late 2014, while most desire a small residual force.
But while many people have begun calling for a total pullout of U.S. forces, what the country really needs now is stability, and the U.S. military can still help provide that in the country.
Since U.S.-sponsored talks with the Taliban were scuttled last month on scant pretense, President Karzai has stopped cooperating with the Obama administration in crafting a new Status Of Forces Agreement, the standard legal mandate that the U.S. needs in order to establish a (legal) presence anywhere. The Obama administration has offered Karzai the prospect of pulling out all troops, the so-called "zero option."
The Afghan National Army must have a chance to gain experience and grow some teeth. A respectable ANA is necessary to hold the country together, and to threaten the Taliban into negotiation and integration, if and when that happens. While U.S. military involvement is generally anathema to the Muslim world, this is a case in which American troops serving in purely a support capacity could make or break what is left of Afghanistan.