Things are beginning to unravel in Afghanistan. President Obama wants to maintain his withdrawal schedule while speeding up the handover of sercurity to the Afghan army and police.
But will events overtake those plans?
President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the United States pull back from combat outposts and confine its troops to military bases in Afghanistan, an apparent response to Sunday's shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant.
Meanwhile, the Taliban said it was suspending preliminary peace talks with the United States because of Washington's "alternating and ever-changing position," and accused U.S. officials of reneging on promises to take meaningful steps toward a prisoner swap.
The announcements followed a meeting between Karzai and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Kabul, after which U.S. officials said the two sides had made progress discussing the contentious issue of nighttime raids - but did not mention any discussion of a pullback.
The latest developments reflect unprecedented strains in the U.S.-Aghan relationship, which reached a low point last month after the burning of Korans by U.S. troops set off a wave of violent protests and retaliatory killings.
Support for the war is slipping both in the United States and among Afghans. Sunday's massacre of 16 civilians - and the transfer of the staff sergeant to a U.S. base in Kuwait - further outraged the Afghan people.
The killings, Karzai's office said in a statement Thursday, have "damaged the U.S. and Afghan relationship."
It's hard to see what Karzai hopes to accomplish by confining American soldiers to base. The practical result will be the Taliban moving into these villages and towns immediately after they've been vacated. Unless he wants to end up being strung up from some lamp pole in Kabul following a Taliban victory, his demand, if met, will only speed the day when that happens.
Karzai is flailing about trying to play both sides against the middle by attempting to capture the popular rage against America at the same time he's begging us to support him.
As for negotiating with the Taliban, that should be Karzai's job - not ours. And if the enemy measures our "good will" by our willingness to release Taliban terrorists back to Afghanistan (or some 3rd country where they almost certainly will be set free eventually), then we've already lost the negotiations and might as well pack up and go home.