There is little we would like more than for peace and stability to reign in Afghanistan and for the U.S. military to be able to end combat operations there immediately. But that has to be guided not by wishful thinking but by conditions on the ground.
Unfortunately, there are strong indications that the Taliban -- the radical Muslims in Afghanistan who harbored al-Qaida terrorists prior to the 9/11 attacks on America -- are seeking to regain control of that country, and that they will intensify efforts to take power if U.S. forces leave.
That is a horrible prospect for the Afghan people, who suffered under Taliban brutality until the United States led the effort to remove the Taliban from power after 9/11.
But the Taliban threatens our country, too. Taliban rule in Afghanistan poses the possibility of al-Qaida again finding safe haven there and plotting more terrorist attacks against us.
That raises big doubts about the Obama administration's decision to speed the end of the United States' combat role in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says our troops' role will change from combat to the training of Afghan forces by late 2013, earlier than previous estimates.
That is worrisome because of indications from U.S. intelligence sources that hard-won progress toward stability and security in Afghanistan could be in jeopardy.
We don't want to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan any longer than necessary. But the administration shouldn't make politically popular decisions today that may have long-term negative consequences.