Afghanistan has been plagued by increasingly deteriorating security conditions, widespread corruption, and a troubled economy since the Taliban regime was overthrown by the U.S. military soon after it invaded the country in response to the 9/11 attacks.
The security situation has significantly worsened since President Barack Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in December 2014, as he dramatically reduced the American military footprint in the country.
America declared war on the Taliban for protecting and assisting al Qaeda in carrying out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. homeland.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and by December of that year, the Taliban government had been toppled. However, the focus was shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq until President Barack Obama took office.
Obama, who has referred to Afghanistan as the “good war,” escalated the conflict soon after taking office in 2009.
To his credit, the president recently changed his mind, granting the U.S. military greater authority to combat the resilient Taliban, in addition to the growing Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) branch in the region, and the so-called remnants of core al-Qaeda.
His administration has been hesitant to publicly admit that the U.S. military has returned to a combat role in Afghanistan.
However, Afghan security forces and civilians, including women and children, have suffered a record number of casualties since the end of combat declaration, primarily at the hands of the Taliban.
The Taliban’s reach in Afghanistan is now greater than at any point since their regime was overthrown nearly 15 years ago. Taliban jihadists are currently considered some of the deadliest terrorists in the world.
In 2015, the Taliban was the chief perpetrator in the world of terrorist attacks, carrying out 1,093 individual attacks that resulted in 4,512 fatalities, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Taliban’s designation as the world’s most prolific terrorist group came within the first year after Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission.
At the end of of 2014, the Taliban’s deadliest year up to that point, the U.S. president decided to bring the U.S. combat mission to what he referred to as a “responsible” end until he had a change of heart this year.
Despite $115 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds spent on nation-building efforts and thousands of U.S. military casualties in the course of the 15-year-old conflict, the Taliban controls more territory now than at any point since it was in power in 2001.
U.S. military deaths have increased nearly four-fold, from the 558 that took place before Obama was inaugurated for office in 2009 to 2,240 now, a Pentagon tally shows.
Meanwhile, the injuries have increased about 7-fold, from 2,702 under the previous administration to 20,168 now.
That means there have been 1,682 U.S. military deaths (about 75 percent of all) and 17,466 injuries (nearly 90 percent) in Afghanistan under Obama’s watch.
Most U.S. military casualties and other terrorism incidents in Afghanistan have been concentrated in and around the country’s border with Pakistan, which U.S. and Afghan officials have accused of serving as a sanctuary for jihadi groups.
Despite nearly $70 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds and years of training invested on developing the Afghan security forces, they continue to face capability gaps.
Other problems facing Afghanistan are a dramatic increase in opium production and cultivation, which is used to fund terrorism and a shadow economy, and the apparent resurgence of an ancient custom of sexually abusing boys by men in power.
The existing problems do not mean more than a decade of U.S. efforts inside and outside Afghanistan have amounted to nothing.
Protecting women’s rights, improving their status, and empowering them within Afghan society has been a moral imperative for the continued occupation by the U.S.-NATO mission.
There has been progress on that front, but it has been modest, remains fragile, and more work needs to be done, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. watchdog agency.
The U.S. has spent billions to expand and improve access to education and better health care for both men and women, opening schools and medical facilities across the country.
However, SIGAR notes that the U.S. agencies in charge of those efforts lack metrics to ensure they are effective.
There are at least 4,228 women serving in the ANDSF, which includes military and police units.
“Despite the respectable increase in female recruits, the overall percentage of women in the ANDSF is only 1.3%,” points out SIGAR.
The U.S. government has plans to invest $216 million and raise an additional $200 million from international donors to assist “over 75,000 Afghan women in achieving leadership roles over five years in all parts of society, including business, academia, politics, and public policy,” reported the U.S. watchdog agency at the end of July.
Other American programs are training women to be teachers, journalists, and even prison guards. The Afghan constitution implemented after the Taliban was removed from power guarantees equal rights to men and women.
However, SIGAR notes, “many parts of rural Afghanistan remain extremely conservative and actively oppose any initiatives to improve the status of women within the community. A range of historical, institutional, cultural, and religious barriers continue to hinder female representation and influence within [the Afghan government].”
Citing deteriorating security conditions, widespread corruption, and unemployment, Afghans are pessimistic about the overall direction of the country as confidence in their government fell to their lowest point in a decade, according to the latest public opinion survey by The Asia Foundation.
The survey found that in 2015, 36.7% of respondents nationwide say their country is moving in the right direction, down from 54.7% in 2014. This represents the lowest level of optimism recorded over thepast 10 years, following last year’s record high during the presidential runoff election. Among the 57.5% of Afghans who say their country is moving in the wrong direction, the most frequently cited reason is insecurity (44.6%, up six percentage points from 2014), followed by unemployment (25.4%), corruption in general (13.0%), a bad economy (12.4%), and bad government (11.4%).