The battle for Afghanistan, 10 years on

Sacrifices in America's longest war
Sacrifices in America's longest war

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Sacrifices in America's longest war 03:06

Story highlights

  • U.S.-led coalition troops have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union was
  • The vast majority of people in Afghanistan are still poor and illiterate
  • There's better healthcare and technology, but still no proper democracy
November 28th last year passed pretty quietly here. But in some ways it was more significant a date than today. That was when, by my calculations, U.S.-led coalition troops had been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union was.
Today, they've been here 10 years.
That's almost impossible to contemplate. The time has drifted by, measured more in sacrifice and expenditure: The numbers of young soldiers who risked a lot to join the military and won't be going home. The immeasurable amount of money spent here, on roads that will be hard to maintain once the coalition leaves, on homes in Dubai for Afghan officials who should have known better.
Cruder calculations suggest the money spent on war each month here could alternatively be given straight to Afghans -- hundreds of dollars each a month. That would have been something in 2001, but now the huge inflation of war makes it comparative small change.
General Stanley McChrystal, the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Thursday the coalition is only 50 per cent of the way there.
Expectations vs. reality on the ground
Expectations vs. reality on the ground

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    Expectations vs. reality on the ground

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Expectations vs. reality on the ground 03:54
Witness recalls start of Afghan war
Witness recalls start of Afghan war

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Witness recalls start of Afghan war 03:16
Differing numbers on Afghan violence
Differing numbers on Afghan violence

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    Differing numbers on Afghan violence

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Differing numbers on Afghan violence 01:58
It is likely McChrystal, who lost his job after he and his team were quoted extensively in Rolling Stone magazine, will be remembered as the great truth-teller of the war that ended his military career. For a little while, his bluntly pessimistic assessments felt like there was someone in charge who knew how bad and how complicated it was, and how long the road ahead would be.
As one of McChrystal's top aides, Maj. Gen Bill Mayville, told Rolling Stone in that same article: "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win."
But after McChrystal's hasty departure, the war seemed to revert to crisis management again.
His replacement as commander of U.S. and ISAF troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus had little time in the job before the collapse in domestic support -- dare I even say comprehension -- of the war led Obama to begin thinking about the exit.
It has been curious to see Obama, the presidential candidate who seemed to understand the importance of leaving this country in a manageable state, become the drum beater for an exit. The war is not a vote-winner after Bin Laden's death, and there's simply no money left in the kitty.
Some things are better: there's money everywhere here; there's better healthcare in some places; there's technology the Taliban held at bay; there are hospitals and schools where before there were none.
But it's not a proper democracy; it's not safe; the vast majority of people here are still poor and illiterate; and it's still got the Taliban, al Qaeda and a lot of narco-traffickers in play.
Now the timetable is set, the battle of perception, as NATO called it, being fought with one unmistakable backdrop: The Americans want out.
The NATO message is being persistently and deftly put out there: We are making security good enough for the Afghans to handle. You hear that message, come hell or high water, almost independent of what's happening on the ground.
It's easy to understand why: It may be there's not much more America can do here, bar stay another 10 years.