The U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan is taking a beating in the northern city of Kunduz, a bustling, cosmopolitan, university town where women often shun the burqa in favor of bright turquoise gowns and scarves.
A peaceful place last time I was there, with Afghan police and army units that worked well with American GIs, and U.S.-funded improvements to schools and street-lighting underway. Despite isolated terrorist bombings, a place that you could easily imagine the Afghan security forces running without any U.S. military presence (that, of course is the exit strategy).
Last Saturday a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a downtown traffic circle, killing 10 policemen including the head of the traffic department and the counter-terrorism chief. Not the kind of thing that encourages Afghans to join the police force, which is already struggling under U.S. pressure to recruit, train and, crucially, retain young Afghans.
While Washington fervently hopes the police can take over, a cautionary note came Tuesday in the form of a report by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the congressionally mandated office of gumshoes who check out where all the money is going.
SIGAR found that $7.3 million in U.S. funds went to build a sprawling new complex for the Afghan border police in Kunduz province, a facility built to accommodate 175 people. But when SIGAR went by the other day, only 12 Afghans were on hand; none of them knew how to work (or maintain) the heating or air conditioning, and they didn't even have keys to some of the buildings. Wood-burning stoves near the facility's mess hall had been dismantled, SIGAR said (read, stolen).
Back here in Washington, what we hear from the Obama administration is that the "transition" to Afghan security forces taking responsibility for defense is on track.
To his credit, the President observed earlier this month that the war is not over and that "this remains a very difficult mission."