Obama's Great Gamble Comes to an End

By Chris Sands

Almost three years after US President Barack Obama vowed to "seize the initiative" with a surge of forces to Afghanistan, his great gamble has come to an end.

The final remnants of those extra American troops departed last week, leaving behind a country still wracked by violence and bitterly divided, and still unsure of what has been achieved.

For each triumph on the battlefield there was, people here say, often a loss elsewhere. Now with time running out and Washington having played its strongest card, optimism is hard to find.

Even when lawmaker Abdul Jabar Qahraman is taking the short trip from his house in Kabul to the Ministry of Defense across town, he has his bodyguards well prepared and a plan for the journey carefully laid out.

Like anyone else who openly opposes the Taliban, his world is shrinking fast and he knows it. "All over Afghanistan security does not exist," he said.

A huge figure who swears profusely, Qahraman was a general in the army during the Communist era of the 1980s. He now serves as a Member of Parliament for Helmand, a southern province that absorbed many of the 33,000 extra troops deployed in the surge.

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US Marines suffered heavy casualties there as they fought for control of some of the country's most hostile territory. NATO is adamant the situation has improved. Whether any success can last, however, is another matter.

The Taliban have always demonstrated an ability to adapt to changing conditions and the feeling persists that they are confident enough of ultimate victory to accept temporary defeats and setbacks.

Qahraman is skeptical the surge had any positive impact.

He claims assassinations are still a serious problem in his province and believes the central government will collapse if all conventional foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan as scheduled in two years.

"Every single day our people are dying at the hands of the insurgents. Anyone can kill anyone else at any time without any fear and without being arrested," he said.

The increasingly tense and paranoid atmosphere developing in much of the country was only heightened in the week leading up to the end of the surge, when a series of alarming events hit the headlines.

First a Taliban assault inside the largest military base in Helmand left a pair of US Marines dead. The attack is estimated to have caused around $200 million worth of damage.

 

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