This year will see the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan after 13 years of occupation. But will troops actually depart, and what will they be leaving behind?
The US is pushing for the Afghan government to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement that would allow at least 10,000 US troops – and all drone bases – to stay and give the US the authority, without legal repercussions, to arrest, detain and extradite any Afghan deemed to threaten its security interests.
The alternative is the ‘Zero Option’. This would mean that all troops would leave, but that $4 billion worth of annual international aid would be withdrawn too.
At the time of writing, the Agreement was still unsigned.
Opinions on the ground vary as to whether the departure of US troops will be good or bad for the country. But most people will agree that NATO allies are leaving Afghanistan in a state of crisis. Suicide bombings are an almost daily occurrence and infrastructure is in tatters after 40 years of conflict, which has claimed two million lives.
Unemployment stagnates at an official 30 per cent but is thought to be as high as 60 per cent. Sewage flows freely in the streets; the main roads in the capital Kabul are unpaved and hard to navigate. Some 60 per cent of children are malnourished and nearly 40 per cent of Afghans live below the poverty line.
Women’s legal rights that were won over the last decade are under threat. Girls’ enrolment at school has stalled below 50 per cent; violence against women is on the rise.
Many Afghans are voting with their feet. At 2.6 million, they now make up the largest refugee community in the world, along with Syrians.