For the Afghan government to gain the upper hand, however, the foreign money needs to continue flowing. If salaries aren’t paid, local police could turn into insurgents or bandits. Problems with the pay structure would also threaten the integrity of the Afghan military, possibly breaking a key national institution into feuding factions. Donors have promised to continue supporting the cost of Afghan security forces until 2017, but even the most optimistic projections show the donations shrinking in coming years. The Afghan forces will also require help with air support and logistics, making sure that enough diesel, bullets and other supplies reach the front lines. Just as importantly, they need to refrain from beating people, stealing money and fighting each other. They need to behave in a way that inspires trust.
These are tall orders, but not impossible. Afghan security forces with a healthy budget from foreign donors may succeed in keeping the Taliban at bay. There’s also a risk that parts of the country could fall into anarchy, or break into civil war. I keep thinking about the hairdresser in Kandahar city and the cracked ceiling of his shop, always threatening to collapse. I hope that the United States and its allies feel a sense of responsibility about leaving southern Afghanistan in that kind of peril. In his State of the Union address in early 2013, President Barack Obama predicted “by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Perhaps the war will be finished for many US troops, but the fight is far from settled. Afghanistan was an unsuccessful laboratory for ideas about how to fix a ruined country. It’s morally unacceptable to claim success in a few limited areas—child mortality, access to education—and walk away. At best, we are leaving behind us an ongoing war. At worst, it’s a looming disaster. This is not an argument in favour of keeping battalions of foreign soldiers in the south, but a plea for continued engagement. Troop surges didn’t work; the mission was a debacle. That should not discourage us. Rather, it should spur our work to repair and mitigate the damage in southern Afghanistan, and inspire a more careful approach to the next international crisis. The soldier who told me that modern civilization cannot tolerate empty spots on the map was probably right: we cannot write “Here be dragons” in the blank spaces, cannot turn away and ignore countries that become dangerous. That kind of neglect always bites us in the ass.
Smith, Graeme. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan. Knopf Canada, Toronto. 2013. p. 282-3