If there is an exact location marking the West’s failures in Afghanistan, it is the modest police checkpoint that sits on the main highway 20 minutes south of Kabul. The post signals the edge of the capital, a city of spectacular tension, blast walls, and standstill traffic. Beyond this point, Kabul’s gritty, low-slung buildings and narrow streets give way to a vast plain of serene farmland hemmed in by sandy mountains. In this valley in Logar province, the American-backed government of Afghanistan no longer exists.
Instead of government officials, men in muddied black turbans with assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrol the highway, checking for thieves and “spies.” The charred carcass of a tanker, meant to deliver fuel to international forces further south, sits belly up on the roadside. The police say they don’t dare enter these districts, especially at night when the guerrillas rule the roads. In some parts of the country’s south and east, these insurgents have even set up their own government, which they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name of the former Taliban government). They mete out justice in makeshift Sharia courts. They settle land disputes between villagers. They dictate the curricula in schools.
Just three years ago, the central government still controlled the provinces near Kabul. But years of mismanagement, rampant criminality, and mounting civilian casualties have led to a spectacular resurgence of the Taliban and other related groups. Today, the Islamic Emirate enjoys de facto control in large parts of the country’s south and east. According to ACBAR, an umbrella organization representing more than 100 aid agencies, insurgent attacks have increased by 50% over the past year. Foreign soldiers are now dying at a higher rate here than in Iraq.