Magazine | Politics

Afghanistan: Destination Uncertain

The transition is complete, but Afghanistan’s future looks uncertain to say the least.

By Sean Carberry for
Afghanistan: Destination Uncertain
Credit: POOL New, Reuters

On December 28, 2014, at a small, secret, and heavily secured ceremony in Kabul, American General John Campbell declared the end of the U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan. Campbell, the last commander of the International Security Assistance Force, rolled up the ISAF flag and, with that, a 13-year mission.

“Today marks an end of an era, and the beginning of a new one,” said Campbell.

ISAF, a force comprised of troops from NATO as well as non-NATO countries, had been leading the fight against the Taliban since 2001. In recent years, it had gradually transitioned from primarily fighting the Taliban to primarily advising and mentoring Afghan forces now doing the fighting. ISAF oversaw the creation of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) – police and army units totaling some 350,000 personnel.

But the war is far from over, and unlike in Iraq in 2011, foreign forces haven’t left Afghanistan. With the end of ISAF’s mission came the beginning of “Resolute Support.” That’s the U.S.-NATO follow-on mission scheduled to run through the end of 2016. Some 13,000 foreign troops will continue training and advising Afghan forces who desperately want and need the help.

You wouldn’t have gathered that from Campbell’s speech, which read like a greatest hits of U.S. and NATO talking points on Afghanistan.

“There is no turning back to the dark days of the past,” he said. “The insurgents are losing, and they’re desperate.”

Campbell claimed that Afghan forces “overmatch the enemy” wherever and whenever challenged. This was his primary message – that NATO’s blood and billions of dollars created an Afghan security force that can lead the fight from here.

“Today, the [Afghan National Security Forces] have rightfully earned their position as the most respected institution in the country,” said Campbell.