U.S. Drawdown Leaves Afghans With Mixed Feelings

U.S. soldiers still patrol in Afghanistan, like this one speaking with a young man in the eastern province of Khost in August. However, Afghan forces are taking on increased responsibility as the U.S. draws down and prepares for its troops to leave by the end of 2014.

hide captionU.S. soldiers still patrol in Afghanistan, like this one speaking with a young man in the eastern province of Khost in August. However, Afghan forces are taking on increased responsibility as the U.S. draws down and prepares for its troops to leave by the end of 2014.

Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of American troops will be leaving Afghanistan as the NATO-led coalition enters its final two years in the country. Already, more security responsibility is being placed in the hands of the Afghan security forces, says U.S. Gen. John Allen, who heads the NATO-led coalition here.

"The insurgency is today confronted by a rapidly transforming and increasingly capable [Afghan army], which is bearing a larger share of the burden and a larger share of the sacrifice," Allen says.

Many Afghans welcome the rapid exodus of Western forces. But others are rattled, especially in the volatile southern part of the country.

Afghan security forces are already playing a more prominent role, though questions remain about the quality of the forces. Here, an Afghan policeman talks with an elderly man in the eastern province of Khost in August. i i

hide captionAfghan security forces are already playing a more prominent role, though questions remain about the quality of the forces. Here, an Afghan policeman talks with an elderly man in the eastern province of Khost in August.

Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan security forces are already playing a more prominent role, though questions remain about the quality of the forces. Here, an Afghan policeman talks with an elderly man in the eastern province of Khost in August.

Afghan security forces are already playing a more prominent role, though questions remain about the quality of the forces. Here, an Afghan policeman talks with an elderly man in the eastern province of Khost in August.

Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

At a meeting of local and provincial leaders in the Panjwai district west of Kandahar, several American service members observe, but do not get directly involved.

With the help of a translator, the Americans listen to the Afghans discuss a shortage of school buildings and Taliban attacks that destroyed a major road here.

In past years, Western troops actively engaged with local tribal elders at such gatherings. On this day, the Americans do not address the crowd.

Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa welcomes the change.

He says it's time that Afghans take the lead not only in governance, but in security.

"Our wish, you know, is that it happens before 2014," he says. "So hopefully by then, the Afghan security forces are on their own feet. They will be hopefully in the position to defend the entire country, and that's their job."

Afghan Forces Take The Lead

Back in Kandahar city, that's already happening. U.S. forces rarely patrol these days, leaving law and order in the hands of the Afghan police.

It's something many residents, like baker Mohammed Ali, believe has contributed to improved security within the city. They say that with fewer foreigners for the Taliban to target, Afghans are safer.

Kandahar Mayor Mohammed Omar says the rush to put Afghans in the lead has benefited local governance as well. He explains that after years of having no budget, this year foreign donors gave the city $23 million that he used in part to establish a sanitation department.

"But for big projects, like a dam, like electricity, we need an American promise to Afghan people that we will continue [to receive] help and support after 2014," he says.

Some Afghans Are Nervous

At a nearby school, principal Ehsanullah Ehsan is far more wary of the ongoing drawdown, which he fears will backfire.

"We are scared of what will happen if the international community withdraws, because the successes that have come have not been solidified," he says. "There are still warlords, there are still drug lords, there are still extremists, there are still Taliban," he says.

He fears that projects like his co-ed school, which is funded with Canadian and U.S. aid, may suffer once the troops leave.

Ehsan predicts that without the NATO-led coalition here, foreign attention to Afghanistan will wane despite billions of dollars pledged by various countries for development and other assistance.

He also worries that Afghan security forces won't be able to stop the country from slipping into civil war, as happened after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989.

Across town, provincial council chief Ehsan Noorzai also predicts chaos and anarchy once the Americans leave, with the country's many strongmen jockeying for power.

Nevertheless, Noorzai says Western forces can't leave soon enough, given their inability to establish peace over the past decade.

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