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Karzai meets Obama: How will they shape a post-2014 Afghanistan?

Few appear to believe the Taliban can regain power after 2014, when the US withdraws most of its troops. What's key, some say, is developing a US-Afghan partnership that will survive.

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"Before [2001], people thought of the Taliban as a military power, but now they are a political power, because they can play a game and they are doing it," says the Afghan translator.

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"To be honest, [the US] lost the war. With all this effort, you expect good results, but they are not there," says the translator. "Now [US forces] are trying to reduce their casualties. If they won the war, why do they want to keep 10,000 troops? It means there are still things to do, and the threats are worse [today] than five years ago. In 2001, it was so easy to finish the Taliban, [but] now the Taliban are in an offensive position."

The translator recalls hearing repeated complaints from Afghan villagers as US troops made patrols in the less-welcoming southern reaches of the country, that it was the US presence that endangered them – not only the Taliban.

"They were hating both sides, they were harmed by both sides," says the translator. "[Villagers] would say: 'Please, for God's sake, leave! You are the main reason for the problem. From the day you arrived, there was bombing.' The American commander laughed and said, 'We are bringing security to you.' They replied: 'No, we feel insecurity with you.'"

An elder from the remote eastern province of Nuristan says he heard similar sentiments.

Yacoub Nuristani, who helped US Provincial Reconstruction Teams choose and fund projects, says there is little left to show for that work besides a few clinic and school buildings.

A key road near Kamdesh is now too insecure to use. Five years ago, the Monitor reported on Taliban killings of elders who cooperated with US forces, which later withdrew completely from the province.

"The people of Kamdesh fought against the Taliban when the Americans were there, they were threatened by the Taliban," says Mr. Nuristani, speaking in Kabul. "Now the Taliban are there, but they don't threaten because there are no US or foreign troops."

Those who supported the government and fought the Taliban, says Nuristani, now have no government support "so they had to flee."

No 'victory'

Few say they believe that the Taliban could reimpose their rule on Afghanistan before or after 2014, and some say the spate of suicide bombings in recent years – which have often targeted civilians in mosques and shops – is a sign of weakness.

However, few on the ground here use the word "victory."

"It was just a given, it was going to be a success, and if it wasn't going to be a success, it had to be made to look like a success," says Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "That skewed everything, so it became difficult to say, 'Actually, this is very hard, and maybe we should rethink.'

Thus emerged a pattern of expectation, that a solution was just around the corner, if this step were taken to win hearts and minds, or that troop surge was implemented. Instead, the insurgency continues.

Says Bijlert: "Some of it was almost like an evangelical belief, that something was on the verge of happening that would change everything."

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