Afghans Anxious About Troops Departures

History, they worry here, could be about to repeat itself.

Many Afghans felt abandoned by the U.S. after 1989, when the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan. U.S. support to mujahedeen fighters battling the Soviets dried up quickly and Afghanistan sank into civil war. That was followed by the rise of the Taliban and the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaida, which used Afghanistan as a sanctuary.

"If America leaves our country, the situation will get worse," said Khaidad Mahmand, a 28-year-old mobile phone seller in Jalalabad. "The Taliban are strong and if the Americans leave, they will get stronger. In a very short period of time, the Taliban will come in and take over the government. Unfortunately, our Afghan forces don't have the capability to handle the situation."

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan security forces, says the army and police are performing better than the Afghan people think. He insists that the Afghan security forces will meet President Hamid Karzai's goal of taking the lead from coalition forces by the end of 2014.

"People's perception of the Afghan forces is two years old," he said.

But positive progress reports from the U.S.-led coalition have done little to curb the fear.

People smile when they are asked about their future plans because so many Afghans, long accustomed to danger and uncertainty, have learned to live for the day.

"Future personal plans? That's funny," said Abdul Hakim Jan, a 34-year-old businessman in Kandahar. "We stopped making plans related to anything years ago. … We all are just confused right now."


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