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GlobalPost documents the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan.

There's no hiding US failure in Afghanistan

Blog: Troops who remain on the ground no longer try to sugarcoat the reality that the war has accomplished little of permanence.
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Deep into the drawdown, fuel is no longer distributed to smaller bases by road — it is too dangerous and there aren't enough trucks. Two Chinooks at Kandahar Airfield prepare to deliver fuel containers to a small contingent of troops at FOB Apache in neighboring Zabul Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)
Blog: Troops who remain on the ground no longer try to sugarcoat the reality that the war has accomplished little of permanence.
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Afghanistan's contested presidential election hangs over US transition

As US soldiers leave, a mentorship program that brings together US military brass and Afghan political leaders will maintain some continuity.
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Col. Tom Washington learns that Gov. Toryalai Wesa has just flown to Kabul, so he'll be meeting with Wesa's deputy, Abdul Patyal in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — With his armored trucks creeping through the thronging bazaars that line Highway 1, Col. Tom Washington recently made his weekly trip from Kandahar Airfield to the governor’s palace.

Gov. Toryalai Wesa had just left for meetings in Kabul, so the colonel met with Kandahar Province’s deputy governor Abdul Qadim Patyal, as he often does.

Ask Washington where he’s from and he’ll tell you in a lilting Tidewater accent that he’s a Virginia native. Press further and you’ll find that doesn’t just mean he was born there. His family has lived in Virginia for eight generations and is related to the Washington, the first president of the United States. Washington’s role as military liaison to the governor’s office is one of the few US military jobs that will remain in Kandahar after the planned drawdown of troops is complete. While Washington will likely finish his tour at the end of the year, he'll be replaced by another handpicked colonel, continuing the mentorship and information sharing process that is central to the post-2014 US mission in Afghanistan.

President Obama has identified counterterrorism and training as the two emphases for the road ahead, and the soldiers tasked with carrying them out will have their work cut out for them. At the moment, US soldiers are leaving Afghanistan in droves, most military bases here are now in Afghan hands and US activities in 2015 and beyond are expected to be much smaller than they’ve been in more than a decade.

A few years ago, the main effort of US mentorship and training took place primarily at the lowest levels of Afghan military and politics: US soldier to Afghan soldier, squad to squad, platoon to platoon. Four months from the combat mission’s official end, mentorship occurs only at the highest provincial levels: US general to Afghan general, corps to corps, and in Kandahar City, colonel to governor.

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Closing time at Afghanistan's Kandahar Airfield

As American troops come home, Western fast food shops and local businesses are leaving too.
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Sajad Ahmad, proprietor of the House of Knowledge, has marked down all his wares as he prepares to close his shop. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – As the US troop presence dwindles here, The House of Knowledge is closing.

Sajad Ahmad set up the shop on a retail strip at Kandahar Airfield hoping it might help to enlighten the soldiers by offering them books about Afghanistan history and culture. At the height of the US presence, Kandahar hosted 30,000 soldiers.

“Business was not good,” Ahmad said.

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Here are the signs that America's longest war is finally ending

Kandahar Airfield is unusually quiet and military contractors are looking for their next gigs. As Iraq falls apart, what will Afghanistan look like in a few years?
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Stenciled on a blast wall at Kandahar Airfield, a soldier's gallows humor echoes the uncertainty of Afghanistan's future. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Arriving here for the sixth time since 2010, I’ve never seen Kandahar Airfield as quiet as it is now. Most of the roaring diesel generators are gone, and the buildings they once powered are either abandoned or demolished. What was once a flood of traffic with huge armored convoys jockeying against trash trucks and fuel tankers on the airfield’s narrow streets has slowed to a trickle.

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USAID’s $500 million dam project circling the drain in Afghanistan

The strategically critical city of Kandahar will soon be without electricity after USAID's epic failure to finish a dam that has already cost half a billion dollars.
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Engineers work in the control room at the Kajaki Hydroelectric Power Plant in Helmand Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

A linchpin of the American counterinsurgency strategy in southern Afghanistan is maintaining electrical service in Kandahar City, and even that modest goal appears to be slipping away with the ongoing troop withdrawal. That is because the long-overdue upgrade of Kajaki Dam, slated to provide power to Kandahar, now appears unlikely to ever be finished.

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Amid election protests, Afghans wary of ethnic conflict

The protests, so far peaceful, are threatening the legitimacy of what could be Afghanistan’s first democratic transition of power.
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Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah shout slogans during a demonstration in Kabul on June 27, 2014. Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah led thousands of demonstrators at a noisy rally through Kabul on June 27, upping the stakes in his protest against alleged election fraud that has triggered a political crisis. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A dispute over recent elections is raising fears of a return to ethnic infighting in Afghanistan, where supporters of one disgruntled candidate on Friday staged the largest protests yet in a weeklong series of demonstrations.

Chanting, “our vote is our honor” as a call to rally, thousands of supporters of presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah marched from early morning to gather in a downtown avenue housing ministries and the president’s palace.

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The definitive glossary of modern US military slang

The past 12 years at war in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to an expansive (and amazing) new military vocabulary.
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Moon Dust: The earth around a combat outpost is rent by heavy construction vehicles. As the loosened dust dries, it gains the consistency of flour. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KABUL, Afghanistan — It's painful for US soldiers to hear discussions and watch movies about modern wars when the dialogue is full of obsolete slang, like "chopper" and "GI."

Slang changes with the times, and the military's is no different. Soldiers fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed an expansive new military vocabulary, taking elements from popular culture as well as the doublespeak of the military industrial complex.

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With US-Afghanistan security deal in limbo, girls' education is too

With an agreement on the table that would allow some US soldiers to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, education advocates remain committed to holding, and continuing, the progress they've made in the past 12 years.
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Razia Jan with students at her school in Kabul Province, Afghanistan (Principle Pictures/GlobalPost)

KABUL, Afghanistan — After a four-day meeting in Kabul of more than 2,000 Afghan tribal leaders, President Hamid Karzai rejected the assembly’s recommendation that he promptly sign a long-term security agreement with the United States, pending further negotiations. In the meantime, Afghans from all walks of life and members of the international community wait and worry about the country’s future.

Many fear rampant and well-documented corruption will reach new heights and that Taliban power will again strangle the country after an American troop withdrawal in 2014.

But there is an alternative being embraced by those who have led progress in the country over the past 12 years and have no intention of sitting quietly by and watching it all slip away. Afghanistan’s peaceful majority refuses to make the future an adversary, the unknown the enemy.

Pessimists and determined optimists alike agree that a continued US security presence is key, particularly if Afghanistan is going to continue its current advances in girls’ education and steps toward equality for women. As former US First Lady Laura Bush said in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “these gains are fragile, and there is a real danger that they will be reversed.”

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Capitol Hill film screening to highlight 18,000 Iraqi allies in danger

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings aims to remind the US that more than two-thirds of Iraqis who aided in US military operations related to the Iraq War have not been resettled as promised.
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Soldiers and an Iraqi translator with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment speak with a local Iraqi while on patrol on July 13, 2011 in Iskandariya, Iraq. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A 2008 program to provide 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis who “played critical roles in assisting American forces” since the 2003 invasion of Iraq is nearing its expiration, set for the end of December. Of 25,000 visas alotted, only 7,000 have been awarded.

Those Iraqi citizens, and their loved ones, who have been left behind live in danger of kidnapping, torture and murder by extremist groups that call them "traitors." As of August 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 70,000 Iraqis had worked as translators, engineers, civil society experts and advisors for the US armed forces.

In an effort to show the importance of issuing the remaining 18,000 visas to Iraqis and preventing a similar problem as American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), will be screening documentery filmmaker Beth Murphy’s film The List. The film follows Kirk Johnson, who founded The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies to help US-affiliated Iraqis in need of special visas navigate challenges with the US refugee resettlement program.

“This is an important time to remember the failures in Iraq as we are now seeing the problem repeat itself in Afghanistan,” Murphy said. “This screening is an opportunity to have conversations with lawmakers and advocates who can work together to do what’s right for those who risked their lives to help the United States.”

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US soldiers in Afghanistan adapt to life further from the fight

Combat situations are the bread and butter of infantrymen, but US forces are learning to go without as Afghans take over.

KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The glowing hot embers of America's war in Afghanistan, embodied by the military's far-flung combat outposts, are winking out one by one. The few remaining outposts will be turned over to the Afghan military soon, as the US drawdown advances to its uncertain conclusion next year. 

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