At a ceremony in Kabul on Sunday, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) lowered the flag on its long and difficult war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The country’s conflict is far from over, with militant violence on the rise, and many questions are being asked about the mission’s mixed record and its legacy.
Was ISAF successful?
The Taliban were ousted from power for sheltering the Al-Qaeda leaders behind the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
The insurgents now hold no towns or district centres, but have a strong presence in the south and east, and also in some northern provinces. The respected International Crisis Group this year concluded that the “overall trend is one of escalating violence and insurgent attacks” in Afghanistan.
Insurgents “are blocking roads, capturing rural territory and trying to overwhelm district administration centres”, it added. The ISAF mission disrupted militant networks and deprived Al-Qaeda of safe havens in Afghanistan, but some core Al-Qaeda remnants remain especially in the northeast.
Are Afghan forces up to the job?
Development of the Afghan national army and police only began in earnest in 2009, after years of delays. The army is widely seen as more professional than the police, who are accused of indiscipline, abuse and demanding bribes.
A Pentagon report in October said there were “capability gaps” in Afghan air support, intelligence, surveillance, special operations commandos and basic logistics. But the Afghan security forces were widely praised for preventing major attacks during the two rounds of voting in the presidential election this year.
Many military officials in Kabul say that the Afghan air force remains a major weak point, with little ability to launch air strikes or evacuate wounded soldiers.
What threatens future progress?
Corruption, falling donor support, poor security, the drugs economy and lack of planning - according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), a US watchdog. “The expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs puts the entire US and international investment in the reconstruction of Afghanistan at risk,” it said this month.
Drug-trafficking feeds the Taliban and other insurgency groups as well as fuelling corruption and organised crime. Despite a decade of costly US and international counter-narcotics programmes, the UN says opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a record high in 2014. Afghanistan is by far the world’s largest source of opium, producing over 90 percent of global supply.
What do the Taliban want?
The Taliban hope to strengthen their position next year after Nato’s combat mission ends, gaining ground and perhaps even retaking power in the long term. The 2015 summer “fighting season” is likely to be a major test of their strength.
President Ashraf Ghani used his inaugural address in September to call on the Taliban to enter talks.
They have shown little interest in any peace negotiations or in joining the mainstream political process, dismissing the election as a US plot and the current government as stooges of Washington. “We will not hold peace talks with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan,” a spokesman told AFP.