President Barack Obama is accelerating one of his biggest and riskiest foreign pledges: a withdrawal from Afghanistan that will hand the fighting to Afghan troops by spring instead of summer with nearly all U.S. forces gone by the end of this year.
It's a stepped-up pace with success hinging on Afghan troops shouldering fighting even as Taliban forces are poised to take control of the southern and eastern parts of the country.
But Obama is clearly ready. The fighting has cost more than 2,100 U.S. lives and $557 billion since it began in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In three days of Washington meetings between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the future came into focus. By 2014, the U.S. will have only a few thousand military advisers there with Karzai backed up by Pentagon hardware and civilian aid.
The fighting will take on a Pakistan-like feel with missile-equipped drones hovering over disputed areas and American commandos set to swoop in.
Karzai knows that American patience has run out, and it's time for his military to take over. He believes his stature will grow with promises that the United States will end night raids on homes by American troops and cede control over prisons on military bases.
In announcing the quicker exit, both Obama and Karzai are pinning their hopes on the idea that the resurgent Taliban can be coaxed into peaceful power sharing, a tentative idea at best.
But it's hard not to miss the major point. A costly war is coming to a close, just as the far larger Iraq conflict did. In Afghanistan's case, the future remains uncertain and worrisome.
San Francisco Chronicle