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The decision by US President Barack Obama to undertake a much bigger troop withdrawal from Afghanistan than his military commanders wanted is one of the most important of his presidency. It marks the authority of his strategic leadership.

Most particularly, it marks the end of the dominance of the counter-insurgency paradigm for the West and the new triumph of the counter-terrorism paradigm.

Instead of trying to pacify populations, we will simply kill our enemies.

It also confirms the deep strategic pessimism about Afghanistan, which is belied by the tactical brilliance and local successes of US, Australian and other Western troops there. Afghanistan cannot be won while Pakistan supports the insurgency. Pakistan cannot be convinced to change its behaviour.

The cost of Afghanistan in lives and treasure - $US120 billion for US taxpayers this year alone - is too great to bear any longer for no strategic purpose.

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The only strategic purpose now in Afghanistan for Australia is to maintain US military credibility.

Obama, much better than his generals or most of his advisers, has understood for some time now the essential futility of the Afghanistan mission.

He wants to get out as soon as possible with as little damage as manageable to US credibility, and to give as much chance of survival as he can to Washington's friends in Afghanistan after the Americans are gone.