What Obama Didn't Tell Us About Afghanistan

By Chris Sands

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan - Last night, on the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama stood in front of armored military vehicles at Bagram Air Base and spoke of "the light of new day on the horizon" after more than a decade of war. He told an American television audience, "The goal I set - to defeat Al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild - is now within our reach."

But here in Kapisa province, less than one hour from where Obama spoke, lies an entirely different reality.

On the surface, the province appears tranquil, especially from the vantage of the governor's office, which sits high on a hilltop overlooking the provincial capital, Mahmud Raqi. It has a beautiful view of the river below and the mountains, trees and fields that stretch into the distance.

But just outside town, roadside bombs are planted to target NATO convoys.

Two of Kapisa's seven districts have been in insurgent hands for years, according to local residents, politicians and officials. One is Tagab, where the Taliban stop and search vehicles, run a shadow judicial system and stage regular attacks on foreign and Afghan troops.

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This is one of Afghanistan's forgotten battlegrounds, a place quietly unraveling as Washington debates the future of the war. Behind the calm facade is a strategically vital part of the country with a fragile security situation that shows every sign of worsening.

"The government does not have control there. I am the representative of the people and I cannot go without employing very heavy security," said Al Haj Khoja Ghulam Mohammed Zamaray, deputy leader of the provincial council.

Conditions are arguably even more extreme in Alasay. A June 2009 US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks described the militants as having "relative freedom of movement well inside putative secure areas" there. With NATO having since left the district, that has not changed. Elders and members of parliament all insist the Taliban walk openly in the local bazaar.

Similar situations can be found across rural Afghanistan, but history shows events in Kapisa are of particular concern. Guerrillas resisting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s traveled here from safe havens in Pakistan, via the provinces of Kunar and Laghman. It put them within striking distance of the Afghan capital and Bagram air base - then an important Russian facility and now a huge US installation - as well as the main highways connecting Kabul to the north and east of the country.

Speaking to GlobalPost, Abdul Jabar Farhad, a former mujahideen commander serving in the security forces, said "it's the same story today" and the insurgents are now establishing crucial forward positions in Kapisa in preparation for a wider war.

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