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Friday
Oct072011

Ten Years Later: What America Has Accomplished in Afghanistan

ABC News(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- It's been 10 years since the first U.S. bombs fell on Afghanistan, 10 years since an American-led coalition drove the Taliban from power.

There is perhaps no one better able to explain the ups and downs that Afghanistan has endured in the last decade -- and the two decades of war before that -- than a kind, jovial man named Nimat Ullah Rekazai.

Like so many Afghans, Rekazai has often flipped sides, balancing a wish to follow people he believes in, with a desire to follow people he thinks will prevail.  Twenty-five years ago, he was fighting against the Soviets; 10 years ago, we was fighting with the Taliban.  But after 9/11, he threw his lot in with the Americans and the new, untested Afghan government.  In short, he was exactly the kind of person the U.S. needed in order to succeed there.

Rekazai was an example of early success, for Afghans and the U.S.  He founded nine NGOs, including small organizations that teach women to sew and use computers.  He says he volunteered for the CIA in his home town of Mehterlam, in eastern Afghanistan.  And for a while, he dismissed Taliban threats.  Insurgents -- he said he knew all their voices -- first called him on the phone, and then they wrote him a letter: Stop teaching girls, or we'll kill you.  They even gave him a date: Aug. 20, 2011.

When ABC News first met him, Rekazai was worried but resilient.  "These kinds of conditions motivate me," he said then.  "So I am continuing my work."

That was in July of this year.  Soon after that conversation, the Taliban made good on its threat.  Rekazai's brother and cousin were kidnapped.  The relatives called from a payphone after escaping to Quetta, Pakistan.  That kidnapping, and a U.S. departure from his town, have sent Rekazai into hiding.  He has stopped his work, saying it's no longer safe.  Now, he is on the run.  He hides in different cities, lying even to his family members about where he is.

"I live like a criminal," he told ABC News.  "I'm hiding all the time."

Looking at many corners of Afghanistan today -- 10 years later -- the singular complaint of so many people here is some version of Rekazai's: We are not safe.  Ten years ago, male residents of most towns and villages could travel safely; they knew an order and stability, even if it was born out of fear of Taliban repression.  But that's not the case anymore.

"The problem with Afghanistan is not winning the conventional war, but the guerrilla war that could follow, as the Soviets and British discovered," said former National Security Council official Kenneth Pollack.  "In each case, the initial conventional campaign was pretty easy.  What followed was the hard part."

Pollack spoke those words in late 2001, as Afghans were still dancing in the streets of Kandahar, and Kabul.  He had it about right.  That "guerilla war" still rages in parts of the country, and is to blame for much of today's trouble.

Ten years later, much of the early post-9/11 progress has been eroded.  Other areas -- good governance, to take an important one -- never progressed much at all.

But there is no denying certain bright spots.  Ten years ago, a woman in Afghanistan lived in an enforced shadow, shut out by the Taliban from schools and jobs and public institutions.  Ten years later, a woman in Afghanistan can study and work; she can vote, and she can stand for office.  Ten years later, there are women in the Afghan Parliament.

Ten years ago, children in Afghanistan -- boys only -- studied the Koran, or militancy, and little else.  Schools were shuttered, or burned to the ground.  Today, more than six million Afghan children are in school, according to the United Nations.  That's seven times as many as attended school a decade ago.  Shortages of teachers and classrooms persist, but now children -- boys and girls -- are studying and learning in ways that might actually help them, and their country, find a better future.

And 10 years ago, health care in Afghanistan was an unmitigated nightmare.  Again, women suffered disproportionately, forbidden from being alone in a room with a male physician.  Today, women and men both have greater access to a better level of care.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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