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Nov 21st, 2010

Afghans Losing Patience in War 

U.S. and NATO forces plan to stay in Afghanistan for at least four more years

Image: An Afghan woman waits for Marines to search her home
An Afghan woman waits with U.S. Marines outside her home in Helmand Province while it is searched on Dec. 23, 2009. (Photo credit: Adress Latif / Reuters file)

By Deb Riechmann

Nov. 21, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. and NATO forces will stay in Afghanistan for at least another four years, yet there are growing signs that the West has already worn out its welcome.

Foreigner fatigue is becoming more apparent among Afghans as the U.S. and its international partners try to shore up support among their own populations for continuing the fight. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders approved plans during a weekend summit in Lisbon, Portugal, for Afghans to move into the lead role in fighting the Taliban and its allies by the end of 2014.

The reasons for Afghan patience running out are numerous. The war is in its 10th year, and progress is only mixed at best. Tactics like night raids on homes to capture militants fuel resentment in a society with a centuries-long tradition of resistance to foreign domination. In a sign of the ill-will, Afghans often blame coalition troops for killing civilians even though the Taliban and militants kill more.

Moreover, the Western footprint has grown. The buildup of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements this year made the foreign presence even more overt, but underscored Afghan feeling that all the troops and billions in aid haven’t substantially improved their daily lives.

“I don’t think NATO has done much good,” said Siyal Khan Farahi, a 39-year-old contractor in Kandahar in the south, where the Taliban insurgency was born. “They are spending millions of dollars over here but I don’t see many signs of prosperity or anything that can change the people’s standard of life.”

“America calls itself a superpower, but they can’t control these insurgents so they should leave this place.”

The concern among international representatives is that the sentiment will undermine NATO’s attempts to win public loyalty away from the Taliban. Reflecting the mood, President Hamid Karzai has grown more vocal in criticizing the roughly 147,000 international troops on his country’s soil.

Karzai’s comments in turn make it difficult for Obama and other Western leaders to sell their war policies at home, if there’s a perception even Afghans don’t want troops there. …

Anti-foreigner sentiment is easily inflamed.

In July, an angry crowd rioted in Kabul, shouting “Death to America!” after U.S. contract employees were involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans. The crowd hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles before Afghan police moved the contractors to safety. …

A crowd of Afghan protesters destroy a car during clashes with police following Friday prayers in Kabul on July 30, 2010. Rioting erupted when scores of Afghan men set fire to two U.S. embassy vehicles after one collided with a civilian car killing a number of occupants, officials and witnesses said. (Photo credit: Yuri Cortez / AFP – Getty Images; photo added to report)

American officials recognized the possibility of a popular backlash given the large cultural differences and Afghans’ history of rejection of foreign domination. Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said recently in Islamabad that there were lengthy discussions about whether the U.S. surge in forces would create further animosity.

Mistrust between Afghans, their government and the international community grew significantly in the past year and a half, a July report from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs found.

The report pinned this on growing fatigue with an international presence that “has yielded insufficient results for the vast majority of the Afghan populace in comparison to the cost in lives and resources.”

Suspicion of Western motives is deep in some areas. An informal October survey of 1,000 people in Kandahar and Helmand provinces — two battle areas where winning over the population is key — found that 40 percent believe international forces aim to destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan.

Also, 92 percent were unaware of the Sept. 11 attacks and that they triggered the international move against the Taliban, according to the poll by the London-based International Council on Security and Development.

There is also resentment against Western aid workers, who live in heavily guarded upscale homes, shop in expensive Western-style supermarkets and drive large vehicles with tinted windows. …

The most friction has come over civilian deaths and the NATO tactic of night searches.

The number of Afghan civilians killed or injured soared 31 percent [link added] in the first six months of the year, but they were largely caused by Taliban attacks, according to the United Nations.

Image: An injured boy lies in the hospital
A boy who was injured in a bomb blast lies in hospital in Farah province on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009. (Photo credit: Reuters; photo added to report)

Casualties from NATO and Afghan government forces dropped 30 percent compared with the first half of 2009, mainly because of curbs on the use of airpower and heavy weapons, the U.N. said.

Still, there is widespread perception among Afghans that NATO operations kill innocents. Afghan villagers routinely protest when civilians die. The coalition, meanwhile, has started sending out news releases about civilians killed by insurgents.

Night raids, which Karzai has pressed to stop, have been on the rise and now average more than 200 a month.

NATO has revised its rules of conduct on night raids. Afghan security forces use bullhorns to ask targeted individuals to give themselves up peacefully. The coalition says no shots are fired in more than 80 percent of the raids and civilian casualties occur in just over 1 percent of all special operations missions. …


Related reports on this site

Record Afghan War Dead (Sept. 6, 2010)

Image: Dead child
A school boy killed by an explosion is seen surrounded by relatives, as some chant anti-U.S. and Afghan government slogans in Rodad, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

Afghan Civilian Deaths Up 31% (Aug. 13, 2010)

Spc. Christian Hoffman of Sanford, Florida, a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, listens for the heartbeat of a gravely wounded man after a civilian truck hit a buried mine on June 21, 2010 in Khushi Khona, near the Turkmenistan border. Eight local Afghan men were aboard the truck, returning from a routine trip to buy sheep. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

Angry Protest After U.S. Raid (April 29, 2010)

Image: Afghans burn tires during a protest
Afghans burn tires during a protest in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, on Thursday, April 29, 2010.
(Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

‘Making Enemies’ in Afghanistan (April 12, 2010)

Video: ‘Death to America’ chants

U.S. bus attack angers Afghans (NBC Nightly News, April 12, 2010) — U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Monday opened fire on a bus carrying civilians, killing at least five and inflaming anti-American sentiment in the region just as a major new offensive is about to get underway. (02:12)

“Death to America” (Jan. 7, 2010)

Image: Afghanistan protesters
Thousands of Afghans protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 after a blast killed four Afghan children, a policeman and at least three American troops. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

“Death to Obama” (Dec. 31, 2009)

Image: An effigy of President Obama is burned during a protest in Afghanistan
Protesters chant anti-American slogans and burn an effigy of President Barack Obama in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

Escalating Afghanistan Violence (Nov. 20, 2009)

Image: Smoke comes out of a destroyed vehicle
Smoke comes out of a destroyed vehicle at the scene of a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. (Photo credit: Musadeq Sadeq / AP)

Afghan Support for U.S. Plummets (Feb. 10, 2009)

Image: U.S. Col. Greg Julian and village elders
U.S. Col. Greg Julian listens to village elders in Inzeri village in Kapisa province in the Tagab Valley, Afghanistan, in this Jan. 27, 2009 AP file photo. U.S. commanders distributed $40,000 to relatives of people killed in a recent U.S. raid. (Photo credit: Jason Straziuso / AP)

Afghan Villagers Protest Raids (Feb. 1, 2009)

Afghanistan Civilian Deaths
An Afghan villager elder holds his walking stick as he talks with U.S. soldiers who have come to pay money for repairing homes destroyed during the recent U.S. raids in Inzeri village in the Tagab Valley of Kapisa province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (Photo credit: Jason Straziuso / AP)

Karzai: Stop Air-Raiding Civilians (Nov. 5, 2008)

Image: Afghan men examine a destroyed house
Afghan men examine a house allegedly destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Nov. 5, 2008. (Photo credit: Humayoun Shiab / EPA)

Karzai Warns of Afghan Backlash (Sept. 25, 2008)


Karzai criticizes NATO over civilian deaths (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 20, 2010) — In a speech to the opening session of parliament, President Hamid Karzai urged NATO to do more to protect civilians during combat operations to secure Marjah, although he noted the military alliance had made progress in doing that, mainly by reducing airstrikes and adopting more restrictive combat rules. Karzai also reached out to Taliban fighters, urging them to renounce al-Qaida and join with the government. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:30)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 21, 2009

Iraq Projects Down the Tubes

Image: Water treatment plant in Baghdad's Sadr City
An Iraqi worker at a new water treatment plant in Baghdad’s Sadr City. The $65 million plant is meant to provide water for 200,000 people — just a tenth of the population of the vast slum on Baghdad’s eastern ouskirts. (Photo credit: Erik De Castro / Reuters)

One year ago today, I reported that the United States government had spent $53 billion on reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion — building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools, and bridges – but that there were growing concerns Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans leave, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — November 21, 2008

Iraqis Burn Bush in Effigy

Iraq Protest
A protester uses his shoe to strike an effigy of President Bush, as thousands of followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr converge on Firdous Square in central Baghdad, Iraq, for a protest against a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security pact, Nov. 21, 2009. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

Two years ago today, on Nov. 21, 2008, I reported that followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had stomped on and burned an effigy of President George W. Bush in the same central Baghdad square where Iraqis beat a toppled statue of Saddam Hussein with their sandals five years earlier. Chanting and waving flags, thousands of Iraqis filled Firdous Square to protest a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security pact that would allow American troops to stay for three more years.

Khalid Mohammed / AP

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