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Afghanistan: Five Years After U.S. Strikes Began, Fighting Continues

  • Ron Synovitz --> Osama bin Laden in a screen grab from Al-Jazeera (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today marks the fifth anniversary of the first U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has described the event as the start of a counterterrorism campaign for "the salvation of Afghanistan."

At the start of the campaign, the Taliban regime controlled 90 percent of Afghan territory and was on the verge of defeating the United Front (aka Northern Alliance) in its remaining strongholds. Within two months, the last vestiges of the Taliban leadership would flee its headquarters in Kandahar and embark on a guerrilla war.

That war continues today. The number of foreign soldiers in Afghanistan has gone from about 100 to more than 40,000. On October 5, NATO took over the command of most military operations in Afghanistan. The only forces that remain under direct American command are the U.S. aircraft that continue to provide close air support for ground troops and the troops that operate U.S. detention centers for enemy combatants.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told participants at the ceremony marking the transfer of command to NATO that the handover marks a new chapter.

"Five years ago, [Afghans] and the international community jointly began a campaign against terrorism -- and for the salvation of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "Now we are entering a new phase. In this new phase, the authority is shifted for the U.S.-led coalition to NATO."

Karzai also praised the accomplishments made in Afghanistan since late 2001 -- reminding ordinary Afghans how desperate their plight had been under the yoke of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda five years ago.

"If you can recall in 2001 -- when the international community arrived in Afghanistan after September 11th's tragic incidents -- terrorism, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban associates of theirs were defeated in this country in less than a month and a half," Karzai said. "The reasons were clear: the desire of the Afghan people and the power generated by the international community. The two combined and gave us four years of achievement -- of the return of 4 1/2 million refugees in less than four years, of the return of our children to schools, of the presidential and parliamentary elections, the constitution, institution building, an improved economy, higher wages, and all of that."

RFE/RL analyst Amin Tarzi agreed that much has happened to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

But Tarzi said efforts to rebuild Afghanistan are being overshadowed by resurgent Taliban violence in the south, a thriving opium trade, "warlordism," government corruption, and slow progress on economic development.

"The presence of foreign forces and foreign investments led by the United States was a hope," Tarzi said. "[But now, Afghanistan and the international community] are searching for answers. Afghanistan is no longer a success story as it was in the first two or three years [after the Taliban regime fell]. There are a lot of successes. But they have been overshadowed by lack of progress in some main areas -- the issue of narcotics, the issue of the dispensation of justice. And also, justice and security go hand in hand."

Tarzi concluded that for most ordinary Afghans today, the two main concerns are how to provide security and food for their families.
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