Most wars end with a political settlement. In contrast the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan - the longest war, at 13 years, in U.S. history - formally ended this week by executive action, in keeping with President Barack Obama's overall approach to his office.
No political settlement appears to be on the horizon, and the fighting between the Afghan government and the Taliban appears likely to continue into the indefinite future. Although the U.S. government "formally" ended the war this week, more than 10,000 U.S. forces will continue - at least for a while - to be involved in the Afghan civil war.
President Obama decided in 2011 that U.S. combat forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, regardless of the relative success of the Afghan and Taliban forces on the ground. He stuck to that promise, and our NATO allies, who sent military forces to Afghanistan at our request after 9/11, were only too willing to agree.
In a quiet ceremony attended by Afghan and allied officials in a gym at the main NATO base in Kabul on Sunday, and celebrated by military bands, NATO formally ended its Afghanistan war mission. At the White House, President Obama acknowledged that "Afghanistan remains a dangerous place," but added, "Our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion."
The ceremony was launched with little advance notice. The NATO headquarters in Afghanistan said it did not publicize the event because the Taliban, having launched numerous recent assaults in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, might attempt to attack it.
That discretion says volumes about the conditions in Afghanistan today. The Taliban, backed as always by allies in Pakistan, are proclaiming victory as NATO departs. They also are staging attacks across the country - and frequently in Kabul. They claim to have regained control of Helmand and other provinces.
But these claims are disputed. Karl Ake Roghe, head of the European Union police training mission in Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that while the Taliban have stretched their presence, the methodology has not changed, indicating a lack of insurgent military capacity despite the rise in attacks.
"They make a lot of damage, they send gunmen and suicide bombers to blow up the front wall and then they are immediately killed, so they achieve nothing," he said.
However, Afghanistan's national security adviser, speaking at the NATO ceremony, said his nation needs foreign assistance to defeat the Taliban "now more than ever."
And a senior Afghan general told The Washington Post, "The enemy knows we don't have the air force or helicopters, or enough artillery and heavy weapons. We need those to lower our casualty rate."
That casualty level was higher in 2014 as the size of the U.S.-led NATO combat force was shrinking.
"Our commitment to Afghanistan endures. .?.?. We are not walking away," promised Gen. John F. Campbell, the U.S. commander of the outgoing International Security Assistance Force mission. He will lead the new NATO training and support mission. A separate U.S. command will lead counter-terror operations.
President Obama can say that he has ended the war in Afghanistan.
But it clearly is continuing - and with lingering American involvement.