Afghanistan Two Years Later
America's Military Role in Afghanistan
America's job in Afghanistan may be just beginning. Since overthrowing the Taliban regime almost two years ago, American troops still have a lot of work to do before Afghanistan can safely rule itself.
America pledged to rebuild lives, communities, and relationships, said U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn. "We will not be deterred in our work of helping them achieve their highest aspirations and their most cherished dreams," he said of the people of Afghanistan.
Most of the Americans in Afghanistan are soldiers. About 9,000 are based throughout the country at an annual cost to the U.S. of about $10 billion. They are working with 3,500 international troops to establish peace and stability.
American Special Forces are busy hunting for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the mountains near the Pakistani border. Their job also includes guarding Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who survived an assassination attempt about a year ago. American troops are constantly on patrol around the country to keep the peace.
American officials say Afghanistan's stability depends on rebuilding its cities and strengthening its economy. It also depends on the training of a national Army to eventually take over those jobs from the U.S. and international forces.
Meanwhile, American aid organizations like CARE are addressing humanitarian needs. The U.S. Agency for International Development is helping to hire firms to rebuild roads, buildings, schools, and hospitals.
"The situation in Afghanistan remains critical," says Peter Bell, president of CARE USA. "The country is not even halfway to recovery and reconstruction yet. The U.S. still has a critical role to play. The price of inaction will be a failed peace."
The capital of Afghanistan bustles with activity. Restaurants and hotels in Kabul are open for business. Schools are back in session and include female students for the first time since the Taliban regime was in control. After two decades of war and life under an intolerant regime, the people of Afghanistan are now planning democratic elections and working to build a strong economy.
But times are still hard. In Kabul, many families live in bombed-out buildings destroyed in the wars. The school and healthcare systems need major reconstruction. Farmers, hit by a drought, have turned to growing opiuman illegal drugsince they can make a bigger profit with it than from legal crops.
While the economy struggles, international troops are still needed to keep the peace. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has control of Kabul, but has no control in the provinces outside the capital city. Warlords, or tribal leaders, still rule in the countryside. The country's President has called for more aid from the U.S. and other countries to help speed Afghanistan's recovery.
"[We need the United States] to do more for us in making the life of the Afghan people better, more stable, more peaceful," he said while on a diplomatic trip to the White House earlier this year. "If that help doesn't come, Afghanistan will not be an easy ride."
Afghanistan needs another $15 billion to $20 billion in aid, say UN experts.
They fear that elections scheduled for 2004 won't take place because of continued fighting between tribal leaders. Simple projects, like the building of a road, which would increase communication between Kabul and the rest of the country, have become impossible because of a lack of security. Construction on a highway from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, has stalled because snipers shoot at the workers struggling to remove mines from the road.
Congress will be asked by President Bush to approve a $1 billion aid package to help President Karzai and his government. The aid would be geared toward projects that can be finished in a year: building highways and schools, training police and an Afghan national army, and starting programs to help women get jobs.
"The stakes are high," says Afghanistan's foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, "but with a little more help, the rebels and troublemakers can be stopped."
"The United States cannot afford failure in Afghanistan," Abdullah told reporters. "After all, this is a challenge between the international community as a whole and tiny little groups of terrorists."