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Who Won The War In Afghanistan? Perhaps No One


The release of the Sgt. Bergdahl neatly capped off a week in which President Obama laid out the plan for the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. At the end of this year, just under 10,000 troops will remain in a support role. By the end of 2016, they'll also be gone. The president did not declare victory. He just said that it was time to turn the page. So in the end, who won?

HASSAN ABBAS: I guess no one, but we'll not know for the next five to ten years, I would guess.

RATH: That's Hassan Abbas. He's a professor and Department Chair at the National Defense University and the author of the forthcoming book "The Taliban Revival." I spoke with him earlier today and asked him what the U.S. has accomplished in more than 12 years of war.

ABBAS: I think the U.S. could have accomplished much more. There was huge wastage. I mean, we spent about $650 billion in Afghanistan. There were many mistakes. But nonetheless, it has created a new hope, a new hope that the middle-class in Afghanistan, as small as it is. But in Kabul and other areas, there are, I think, enough people in bureaucracy and among the politicians, among the newer generation who see that there is a new foundation to build upon. They will need U.S. support. They still need $10 billion of revenue every year. And all they can get is $2 billion. So international community and United States have to continue to provide them $8 billion. If that support goes away, then a Taliban victory will be imminent.

RATH: That - and how strong is the Taliban as a force now? How quickly could that happen if that support goes away?

ABBAS: That can, unfortunately, happen quite quickly. I don't think the Taliban will be able to march into Kabul if that support goes away. But south and east of Afghanistan, the Pashtun dominated areas, Taliban are in a pretty strong situation. There are these criminal gangs also, which are focusing in certain areas - the drug bans, the narcotics and the whole network built around that. Regional players - the Haqqani group from Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban leadership, which is somewhere in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. They all can combine their efforts if they see a way to get back, but at best, maybe they can get the governership of Kandahar. But they cannot walk into Kabul, in my view. But if situation deteriorates, then south and east of Afghanistan will go within a few months I would say. I hope not.

RATH: What difference will the nearly 10,000 U.S. troops for an additional year, staying behind - what difference will that make?

ABBAS: I think this is an important part of a strategy, and this will create a deterrence for Taliban. They will know that these are probably special forces or specially trained people, who are trained around history, around politics, they are trainers. They are specialized trainers from different parts of the U.S. military and law-enforcement. That they will provide a support base to the Afghan police and Afghan security.

RATH: Hassan, where do you see the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan in 10 years?

ABBAS: I hope to see that as a progressive, constructive, positive relationship where Afghan, an ordinary Afghan in the south, or east, or north, an Afghanistan will be able to say we are thankful to the Americans for the schools that they have built. They'll hopefully say there is enough security that an ordinary Afghan can travel from Kandahar to Herat without this threat that there'll be check-posts from Taliban. That there is functioning court system and there's a government in Kabul. I think that is possible if United States and international community continue to support Afghanistan in the next 10 years. They don't have the revenues which are needed to continue to build on this. U.S. has helped Afghanistan build that foundation. Together, if we have to help them to sustain that - everything, the whole relationship and future will depend on that.

RATH: That's Hassan Abbas. His book, "The Taliban Revival," comes out in a couple of weeks. Hassan, thank you.

ABBAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.