●Afghan forces lead most operations. When Allen arrived in the summer of 2011, these forces led perhaps a third of all missions — generally the easier ones, in the safer places. Today, they lead 85 percent of all operations and have primary responsibility for security in about three-fourths of the country. Their casualty figures prove their willingness to sacrifice, with about 2,000 losing their lives annually. Those casualty numbers also indicate, unfortunately, that the enemy remains resilient. But the enemy is not winning.
●In southern Afghanistan, NATO forces were downsized substantially on Allen’s watch, and total U.S. forces in Afghanistan declined from 100,000 to 68,000 over the past 15 months. Security conditions have not deteriorated. Of course, the larger test comes under Allen’s successor, Gen. Joseph Dunford, a fellow Marine who must oversee a much larger drawdown by the time the international mission is replaced in late 2014 by a much more modest effort. But the reduction in enemy attacks and civilian casualty rates — some 20 percent to 40 percent in Kandahar and Helmand provinces — achieved since around 2010 is holding even as the number of U.S. troops has declined by tens of thousands.
●Insider attacks, while still a huge worry, appear to be lessening. This plague preoccupied Allen during much of his tenure, with dozens of U.S. and NATO forces (and comparable numbers of loyal Afghan forces) lost to Taliban recruits, mentally unstable individuals or simple criminals. Through improved vetting procedures, worked out with Afghan authorities, the rates of “green-on-blue” killings have fallen by perhaps half in recent months.
●Although largely an accomplishment of Afghans themselves, encouraged by the international diplomatic corps, Allen helped Afghanistan stay on track to presidential elections in April 2014. His successor will, again, have the larger chore, but Allen deserves credit for keeping things on course when some were calling for President Hamid Karzai to seek a third term or expected him to anoint one of his brothers for the job. A legitimate, democratic leadership change is crucial for Afghanistan’s future.
●Because of all this, and Afghanistan’s generally stable, if not peaceful, security environment, fears of an incipient civil war have not greatly intensified in the past two years. That could, of course, still change. But the military progress has helped open up space for political progress. Afghans who began conversations with worries of civil conflict a year or two ago often raise other issues now; that counts as a step forward in the land of the Hindu Kush. In recent days Afghan and Pakistani leaders have even talked about cooperating in peace talks with the Taliban — also a promising sign, as the two governments have often been at extreme odds over the past few years.