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US legacy in Afghanistan: What 11 years of war has accomplished

The lives of four Afghans provide a lens on how America's longest conflict has changed a nation – and the divisions and dangers that persist.

(Page 6 of 8)

"The problem is the existence of foreign soldiers on Afghan soil," he says. With their "night raids," in which Americans raid suspected militants' homes to capture fighters while sleeping, Mahmud says the Americans "attack our people. That is why people join the opposition."

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If the goal of sending troops to Afghanistan was to uproot Al Qaeda and to stop its use of Afghanistan as a haven, then Operation Enduring Freedom has been a remarkable success. But if the goal is sustainable peace, and leaving behind an Afghan government with an army and security apparatus capable of defending the country from external and internal threats, then America and its allies have a long way to go. And Konar Province will be one of the places where the Afghan Army's capabilities will be put to the sternest test.

Statistics are inadequate to conclude whether the past decade has been a success or failure. Al Qaeda may have had just a few hundred members in 2001, when the war began. Many of its top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, have been killed, while others have been either captured or dispersed around the world. But that dispersal has created Al Qaeda franchises in the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere. As for the Taliban, who once controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan and numbered in the tens of thousands, they now have the ability to hold territory in places like Helmand in the south and Nooristan in the east, and to create a sense of insecurity in many rural areas that effectively weakens trust in the Afghan government.

"I don't think that the Taliban will effectively take over after the withdrawal of American troops in 2014 because they are now more fragmented, basically village militias," says Fabrizio Faschini, a security expert at the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. "But I am pessimistic about the capability of the Afghan National Army to take over security when the Americans leave. On paper, the Afghan security sector is increasing; but in reality the insurgents are better armed, better supplied, and they have local support."

The insurgents show no sign of giving up. A coordinated string of six separate attacks April 15, in Kabul and in the provinces of Logar and Nangarhar, showed the ability of militants to conduct well-planned strikes in urban centers where the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army conduct regular searches. Yet US military officials say that the Afghan forces proved their ability in the assaults, clearing out the insurgents without NATO assistance.

"Each attack was meant to send a message: that legitimate governance and Afghan sovereignty are in peril," NATO commander Gen. John Allen said after the attacks. "The ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] response itself is proof enough of that folly."


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