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Afghan war: Who's in charge, again?

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It’s almost impossible to talk to the US military in Afghanistan without someone mentioning that the effort here is increasingly Afghan led. This is, after all, their country, say US soldiers, so it only makes sense that they take the wheel and the US slides into the backseat.

As a reporter working in Afghanistan, I’ve listened to the US military say this for years now. Despite Afghans being given much more authority recently, I’ve still often wondered just how much control Afghans have over their own country. While reporting in Kandahar recently, I received a reminder that “Afghan-led” is often more mantra than an actual practice.

For several years now, I’ve known the district governor of Kandahar’s Arghandab district. I first met him about two years ago, shortly after he took over when his predecessor was assassinated and security seemed to be at an all time low. Since then, whenever I travel to Kandahar I try to pay him a visit.

His office is situated on a compound that is divided between the Afghan district center and a US military base. To enter the district government office, you must first pass through a US checkpoint. After that, another checkpoint divides the US side from the Afghan side.

As I’ve known the district governor for some time, I called him directly to arrange the meeting. Given that he’s an independent politician who is supposed to take his directives from the Afghan government, not the Americans, I didn’t think to bother scheduling an appointment via the Americans he shares a base with. In all my visits this had never been a requirement. 

When I arrived at the main gate of the base, the American soldiers there told me that I’d need to check with their commander at the inner checkpoint before they could allow me to bring in my audio recorder. In a country where reporters often aren’t allowed to bring their own pens to press conferences, this didn’t strike me as unreasonable.

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