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After Troops Leave, What Happens To Afghanistan?

Afghan army soldiers, like the one pictured here, will be responsible for protecting Kabul and holding critical cities and roads together after the planned 2014 American troop withdrawal.
Anja Niedringhaus
Afghan army soldiers, like the one pictured here, will be responsible for protecting Kabul and holding critical cities and roads together after the planned 2014 American troop withdrawal.

This past weekend brought news of more violence in Afghanistan.

Seven Western troops, five Afghan police officers and at least 18 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. The toll included six Americans killed by a single bomb in Wardak province, south of Kabul.

Also over the weekend, The New York Times reported further details about a video that surfaced last month showing the Taliban's public execution of a woman accused of adultery in Parwan province, north of Kabul. In the video, the Times reports, "Taliban members can be heard saying that the executioner is the woman's husband, though Afghan officials offered conflicting accounts of what transpired in the village, Qol-i-Heer."

The ongoing violence and lawlessness within Afghanistan raise concerns about the future of the country after the planned U.S. troop withdrawal in 2014. On Tuesday's Fresh Air, New Yorker reporter Dexter Filkins, who just returned from his latest reporting trip to Afghanistan, joins Terry Gross for a discussion about the many volatile factions within Afghanistan and explains why the future of the country looks so grim.

"The greatest failure is that we haven't really built a state that holds the country together," he says. "There is a state. It's a very flimsy, ramshackle, corrupt thing and most people recognize it and see it as such. And I guess the big question we all face, as the Americans and the rest of NATO draws down is: Is this ramshackle, hodgepodge thing that we've built called the Afghan state — is it going to hold together? Is it going to stand on its own when we leave? Boy, I don't know. I don't know if I'd put my money on that or for how long. That's a very risky proposition."

The U.S. military is now pushing Afghans into the field to take over the fighting as quickly as possible, even when failure is likely, reports Filkins. There are growing questions about who will train and fund the Afghan army after the U.S. departs. And many Afghans are convinced that their country will plunge into a civil war as soon as U.S. troops pull out.

"[One man] told me, 'If you guys aren't here, what do we have at the end of the day?' " says Filkins. "He's got no confidence that the Afghan army — which the Americans are spending billions of dollars trying to train and get ready — will be able to carry the day. And so I think what he sees when he looks into the future is a replay of what happened in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union left."

Filkins explains that after the Soviets left, lawless bands of militias took over Afghanistan. It was a time of utter chaos, when Afghans in Kabul couldn't leave their homes because of safety concerns. Electricity disappeared, schools closed and the government stopped functioning. That only changed after the Taliban took over in the fall of 1996 and started enacting their own brutal form of Islamic justice.

The Taliban still maintain a stronghold in many areas of Afghanistan. And now, says Filkins, the militias are popping up again too.

"In some cases it's the same people 20 years older," he says. "Essentially what happened is that the militias became political parties and now the big question is, are the political parties going to become militias again? Are the parties going to arm? We'll see."

Interview Highlights

On what the U.S. has achieved in Afghanistan

"If you want to make a little scorecard, I'd say over on the achievement side I'd put education and the education of women in particular. There were absolutely no — zero — girls in school by the time the Americans came in, in 2001. That's probably the biggest [achievement]. And the modern world came to Afghanistan. If you're a kid growing up in Kabul, their lives are so different than they would have been."

On the militias allied to the government in Afghanistan

"Some of them are paid by the Americans. Some of them are paid by the Afghan government. It's sort of: keep order, keep the Taliban out. But the trouble is, these militias are now stronger than the government itself and the police chiefs will tell you that. They'll say: We couldn't have gotten rid of the Taliban without these guys but now we can't get rid of these guys. It's pretty troubling."

On the transition

"The Americans are coming out and we're putting the Afghan police and army in our place with a hope and a prayer."

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.