What do foreigners think of Afghanistan
What are the Americans leaving behind in Afghanistan? Visit to one of the most unsafe provinces in the country
The American troops want to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. They have already left Logar. But the Afghans are also tired of the battle.
An Afghan soldier stands on the border with Logar. “Yes, the road is open,” he says. The highway curves south from Kabul into the province of Logar. Small fortresses, outposts of the army in the fight against the Taliban, are enthroned on the hills. Logar has been considered one of the most unsafe provinces in the country for years. Half an hour earlier, the Taliban attacked a vehicle of the Afghan troops on this street, two soldiers were wounded. «Despacito» can be heard from the car radio.
On September 11th, the American soldiers are supposed to leave Afghanistan for good. Joe Biden announced that this week. The president wants to get out of Afghanistan after twenty years of war, the longest the US has ever waged. It should already be so far on May 1st, this deadline is in the agreement that the American government concluded with the Taliban in February 2020. With the Americans, all foreign troops will withdraw, the Germans, the Italians, the Turks - they are relying too much on American support.
The Americans withdrew from the Logar province at the beginning of the year. The last 500 or so soldiers are gone. Logar reveals what Afghanistan could face if foreign troops withdraw. What did they leave behind?
Deadly to civilians
A pick-up truck is parked in front of the governor's estate in Logar's capital, Pol-e Alam, with Khan Mahmad lying on the loading platform. His uncle brought the body here. A small crowd has gathered around him.
Mahmad was shot by the police the evening before, the uncle says, he drove through a checkpoint on his motorcycle, everything was peaceful - the bullet hit him 200 meters further. "He was a worker, not a Talib," says his uncle. Mahmad was 35 and had seven children. The corpse in front of the governor's house is a protest, the uncle has had enough, as have the men around him, he has already lost seven family members in this conflict. 3,035 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year.
Khan Mahmad was caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the police, Governor Logars will say a little later. It is not clear who shot, whether the Taliban or the police.
The Americans are gone, and neither do the people of Logar trust the security forces who trained them. There is great sympathy for the Taliban in Logar, says Ali Mohammad Sabawoon from the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "There were repeated attacks on the part of the local police."
More Taliban attacks
Abdul Qayyum Rahimi has only recently become Governor of Logars. "When they appointed me, I asked, 'Can't you send me to another province?" "Rahimi wears black Ray-Ban aviator glasses and a gun belt under his knee-length robe. He is sitting in the garden chair. At 16 he fought the Russians with the Mujahideen, now he's 49, and he says he never put the rifle down.
“It was wrong to withdraw the American troops. You brought us a great war. Well, before there is a peace deal, they leave us alone, »says Rahimi. Taliban attacks in Logar have increased since the Americans left at the beginning of the year. The Afghan security forces are overstretched, says Rahimi, too few soldiers and police officers for this huge province, which is so difficult to control because of its hills and mountains. This province near the Pakistani border area, where the Taliban are just one of several violent insurgent groups.
Logar is considered the southern gateway to Kabul, the capital is only 60 kilometers from Pol-e Alam. The “Long War Journal” shows the current status of the conflict in Afghanistan on a map: According to this, only one of Logar's seven districts is controlled by the government, three are “controversial”, three are under the control of the Taliban. Rahimi claims he can move freely around Logar, but the governor is traveling in an armored convoy. It is difficult to say who is right in this war that knows no fronts.
And admitting how much of Afghanistan the Taliban actually control would mean admitting: It doesn't look good for the government.
If there is a front in Logar, it is on the roadside. The government controls the expressway to Kabul, at least during the day, and the Taliban often rule in the neighboring villages.
Fear of civil war
“It is not our fight that we are fighting here,” says Governor Rahimi, “it is the international fight against terrorism. Al-Qaeda is still active in Afghanistan, including here in Logar. " Rahimi is not the only one who fears the country will slide into civil war if international troops leave before the Taliban and the government agree on a peace treaty.
The peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha have already been going on for six months. There is little progress. The USA convened another peace conference in Istanbul. It is scheduled to begin on April 24, and the Taliban have deregistered. The Afghan politician Fawzia Koofi was sitting at the negotiating table in Doha, she says that not even she knows how the conference in Istanbul is connected to the one in Doha, "the Americans should really be clear about this, because they initiated Istanbul."
Before Governor Rahimi gets into the white off-road vehicle, he gives a warning that is actually showing off: "Guys, I have a lot of guns in my car." Now he's crouching in the back seat with an M4 assault rifle between his legs, he painted it himself, white-yellow with brown spots. Rahimi still likes the role of the freedom fighter. Every day he drives in his convoy to one of the checkpoints, to the many small fortresses in his province. During the trip he talks about his plans for Logar. He has received a budget of 30 million dollars from the state, and he wants to raise another 30 million from embassies and aid organizations to advance the infrastructure in Logar. “Around 25,000 Americans were once stationed here, and with them came a lot of financial resources. I don't know why nothing was built properly here. "
Rahimi wants to build roads and a civil airport. Maybe with the Taliban, if there is ever peace.
But it is difficult to get money at the moment, says Rahimi, it is no longer like it used to be. Aid organizations observe an increasing unwillingness of donors to let money seep away in Afghanistan. The last donor conference raised $ 12 billion, 3.2 less than four years earlier, and the international community imposed more conditions. With the troops, the money also leaves Afghanistan.
If you want to see what the Americans are leaving behind, you have to get out of Pol-e Alam. Camp Maiwand is just outside the city. It's not a checkpoint like the one the governor visits every day, Camp Maiwand is an epicenter, and the military base was once one of the largest in Afghanistan. From here, too, the Americans wanted to win this war.
At that time the base was called Forward Operating Base Shank, and thousands of Americans were stationed there between 2009 and 2014. In 2014, the Americans handed the base over to their Afghan allies. They had sorted their material beforehand: whatever was valuable and still needed was sent home in shipping containers. At that time, Barack Obama wanted to withdraw his troops step by step from Afghanistan. In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would leave Afghanistan entirely in 2014. It was another six years before the last of the American soldiers withdrew from Logar and Shank.
An Afghan general, whose name must not be mentioned, sits in his office armchair at Camp Maiwand, has a mustache and a bit of a stomach over his belt. A badge is emblazoned on his arm, half American, half Afghan, with a skull in the middle. A farewell present from the Americans. About three months ago they informed him that they would withdraw from the base, he says. It is probably part of the agreement that the US had concluded with the Taliban.
A spokesman for the American troops does not want to comment on the withdrawal from Logar when asked. Around 3,500 American soldiers are said to be still in Afghanistan.
What did the Americans leave behind? "Nothing. A couple of buildings, ”says the general. Stars and Stripes magazine visited the base two years ago. The remaining American soldiers called the base "Zombieland" at the time, and the photos revealed why: dilapidated barracks, garbage dumps, the wreckage of an abandoned truck lies at the entrance to this day. The Afghan troops are overwhelmed with maintaining the huge military base. A brigade is stationed here, so a maximum of 5000 soldiers. Today nobody is allowed to take photos of the ruins, the media officers from back then were dismissed after the story in "Stars and Stripes".
An Afghan soldier says it doesn't matter whether the Americans are here or not anyway. “We were attacked by the Taliban up there at the bazaar. The Americans sat in their camp instead of helping us. " American support for operations by Afghan troops was mostly limited to air attacks, drones and fighter jets. In Logar they have to do without American air support from now on. Will there be peace soon? "Inschallah," says the soldier.
“The Taliban lied when they said they were fighting the Americans. The Americans are gone, now they are fighting us. But real Muslims don't kill other Muslims, ”says the general.
Governor Rahimi has arrived at the checkpoint he plans to visit today. He's wearing the black Ray-Ban aviator glasses again. The visits are important to strengthen the troops' morale, says Rahimi. He climbed the highest point, bodyguards swarmed around, officers ensnared him. He has an important view of the country, sometimes he points to something. A checkpoint could be built there. Sometimes he strokes his beard thoughtfully, he knows that he is being photographed.
A police officer at the checkpoint says they will fight to the death, but they could use more men.
Around 200,000 people serve in the Afghan security forces. They are financed with foreign money, especially American money. Around 30,000 to 40,000 of them are special forces, the elite troops who feel they are called to fight. But for most of them, the war against the Taliban is a job. The Taliban like to call these soldiers and police officers “mercenaries”. There are problems with corruption within the troops, wages are sometimes not paid. Again and again, Taliban propaganda channels post photos of security forces who have allegedly defected.
A “New Yorker” journalist recently asked General Austin Miller whether the Afghan army would be able to cope on its own after the international troops had withdrawn. Miller is the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. He replied: "You have to."
«We can no longer fight. We have been fighting for 42 years. I think it is enough. We are tired, the Taliban are tired, everyone is tired, ”says Governor Rahimi.
His garden is in his property, surrounded by walls. Birds sing in cages, an orange tree grows in the corner where the watchtower is located. The general, whose name cannot be mentioned, comes to lunch. Then the two walk through the garden, a governor with a gun belt, a general in uniform.
If they gave up both, two middle-aged Afghan men would remain. They are discussing flowers.
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