Though initial estimates look to be modest, many Afghans are greeting the news of US withdrawal with a mix of joy and concern.
“People are happy when they hear that the foreigners are preparing to leave. All the security problems are because of them. If they leave, who will Al Qaeda and the Taliban say they are fighting against?” says Shah Wali, a money exchanger in Kabul. “Personally, I think they should not leave too fast. They should do it step by step.”
Mr. Obama is expected to make an official announcement tonight about the drawdown and exactly how many soldiers will leave.
Initial estimates indicate that the US will remove 5,000 soldiers this summer, followed by another 5,000 in the winter or spring of 2012. The US president is also looking at plans that could bring home the remaining 20,000 troops he ordered here as part of a 2009 surge by the end of 2012.
Presently, there are about 100,000 US forces stationed in Afghanistan. Since Obama took office, the number of US troops in Afghanistan has nearly tripled.
In addition to its efforts to bring security to the country, the US has invested more than $60 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan. However, many Afghans complain that those investments have not impacted their life positively, if at all.
“The Americans were here for the past 10 years and there was some development but not in our district. In the meantime, the security situation got worse and the Taliban and Al Qaeda got stronger day by day, so this means their presence was useless for providing security,” says Golum Habib, a member of the local government in Takhar province’s Rustak district. “They are not able to bring security, so they can go.”
Mr. Habib adds that there may be more fighting or a revolution after US forces leave, but he says that Afghanistan may be better off if left alone to solve its own problems. Still he wants America to continue providing his nation with humanitarian assistance even after its troops leave.
At the Gulbahar Center, a Western-style shopping mall in downtown Kabul, Zabiullah Shadman has been closely following the news about the pending US drawdown. He’s been disappointed by the inability of foreign forces to bring security and worries that if they leave now civil war may break out again. Already, business has been slow at his dress shop because many people fear the mall is a likely target for an attack.
If it gets any worse, he adds, “people with money will just take their money and leave.” He says he is even considering fleeing to a Western country if the situation gets any worse.
Although Fakhria Latifi, who works on a USAID-funded project, would like foreign forces to leave her country, she says they must not do so until they’ve created a situation that can provide lasting stability. Otherwise, she worries that the Taliban or other extremist groups could regain control of the country.
“My main concern is that if the foreigners go and the Taliban come back, how will it affect women? They will not have access to schooling and jobs,” she says, adding that 2020 would be a better date for the final withdrawal rather than 2014. “My other concern is how long will we depend on the foreigners.”
Still, a number of Afghans doubt that the US is in any hurry to leave, and this frustrates them. The debate about whether the US will keep permanent bases here has long been part of the heated discourse among Afghans.
In Kandahar, which has been at the center of fighting throughout much of the war but has seen recent improvements in security, tribal elder Haji Faisal Mohammed sees the initial drawdown as a positive step toward addressing Afghan fears that the US wants to be a permanent occupying force.
“If America starts to withdraw their forces it will be a big blow to enemies of Afghanistan because it will show that America does not want to occupy Afghanistan,” he says. Still he adds, “I don’t think that America will be in such a hurry to leave. I think America just wants to start implementing [its] promises.”
Among some Afghans, there is also an awareness of America’s mounting domestic pressures to end the war. Given the economic drain and steadily rising death toll, Mangal Sherzad, a law professor at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad says it’s unlikely the US can stay in Afghanistan much longer.
“Even if they don’t want to take their forces out of Afghanistan, they must do it,” he says. “America has realized that they cannot win by just fighting and from the other side Obama has to fulfill the promises he made to his nation to bring the troops out of Afghanistan.”