US Combat Operations End in Afghanistan (?!) As Afghans Debate Should They Stay Or Should They Go

From The New York Times: “A flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul on Monday. The United States and its coalition allies officially ended their combat mission in Afghanistan on Monday. After Jan. 1, the coalition will maintain a force of 13,000 troops in the country”. Credit Massoud Hossaini/Associated Press

We’re leaving Afghanistan! Major combat operations formally concluded in a solemn ceremony today, amidst mixed feelings.

This from The New York Times: “I don’t know if I’m pessimistic or optimistic,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the departing commander, considering the United States military’s reduced role next year. “The fact that we are in less places, the fact that there are less of us as a coalition, is obviously concerning.”

I get a lot of that here in Kabul. We’re happy you’re here. Please go away. You should have come sooner. Don’t go until the job is done.

I got that last one earlier today from Herat economics author Abdul Shakor Woror.

“They shouldn’t leave now because security is not good in Afghanistan. Taliban is here.  When US finishes that job, then they should go.”

It’s been 13 years, I point out. And many Afghans want us to go. Can we stay forever?

Abdul fingers his red prayer beads. “When the Taliban is in Afghanistan, everything stopped.  Schools are closed for girls, and you should do nothing but pray for Allah. Now is very good.  Schools are open. There are colleges in every province, good hospitals and good doctors.  In 13 years, the country has been improved. The biggest problem is security.”

IMG_0864You’ve had 13 years. We’ve spent a trillion dollars, rotated a million of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world through your country. Isn’t it your responsibility to come together as a people and work out your problems and make peace?

“It’s impossible for Afghanistan to come together. Throughout history, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, other neighbors always do something bad for the people of Afghanistan. Pashtuns, Sunni, Shia, we cannot bring peace by ourselves. We have a politics where provinces are heavily controlled or influenced by neighboring countries. People don’t believe each other. Persians don’t believe Pashtuns who don’t believe Uzbeks…”

He’s starting to depress me. Well, you have a problem then!”

“We have many cultures,” says Abdul, cracking a pistachio.

But there are many places in the world with different ethnic groups that live together.

I ask him to let me hold his prayer beads and then ask what are their significance for him. He says they bring him closer to God, as he considers Allah and Mohammed with each pull on the beads.

I give him back the beads and ask, What would you say to the American people?

“The people of America are my brothers my friends, ask your government, why in 13 years they could not bring peace to Afghanistan?”

IMG_0867My mujehedin friend expressed similar bewilderment. He said we must be funding the Taliban because, otherwise, how in the world could we not defeat them after thirteen years. “Most Afghans don’t like Taliban, says Abdul. “Ninety percent don’t like them.” He goes on to say 70-80 percent didn’t like the Karzai government either. He reminds me that the new president and vice president have still not formed a government, cannot agree on a cabinet.

And he thinks most of the money was not spent effectively, did not reach poor Afghans. I’ve heard those frustrations a lot here. “There are roads, clinics, schools, but this is not where most of the money went. Out of 100 comes 30 for Karzai. The money is controlled mostly by his family. Next come foreign companies. We have a lot of needs.”

In the US there is concern about whether this money is better used at home. Would it have been better if we never came?

“When the US comes to Afghanistan, the US Army and your citizens and government are all honest, and you all think money is being spent for roads etc., but there are people in Afghanistan who are cheating and using most of money for themselves.”

At the end of our chat, I ask him if it’s OK to take a picture. He tells me he turned sixty two months ago. “My black beard is dyed.  Other Afghans cheat, so I thought, when I hit 60, I’lll cheat a little too.”


IMG_0869I ask my taxi driver Jan Agha on the way back to the guest house what he thinks about all this.

He mentions he did some work for Canadians.

You like Canadians? I ask.

“Of course I like them.”

Did Canadians do good in Afghanistan?

“Yes, especially with my people.”

Is it time for western forces to leave?

“Yes, it’s time.”

An American in July asked him if he wanted to go to America and he said, no, he already is talking to Canadians about moving to Canada. I ask him, are you glad the western troops were here for 13 years?

“Yeah, why not. But it’s a bad idea to keep troops here for another few years. They can’t bring security, maybe without them we can have it.”  He pauses. “The Talban, at that time (when they were in power), were real trouble.”

Can the Taliban come back?

“Ooohhh, God knows. I dont know.”

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