The Washington Post

Candidates’ upbeat view of Afghanistan at odds with many assessments

Both candidates voiced an upbeat view of Afghanistan, particularly the development of its security services, that is at odds with many independent assessments of the situation there, and even the views of some U.S. military officials and diplomats.

Obama said, "There's no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country." Romney noted that the training program "is proceeding apace."

But as The Post reported this weekend, no Afghan army battalion is capable of operating without U.S. advisers; many policemen spend more time shaking down people for bribes than patrolling; front-line units often do not receive the fuel, food and spare parts they need to function. Intelligence, aviation and medical services remain embryonic. And perhaps most alarming, an increasing number of Afghan soldiers and police officers are turning their weapons on their U.S. and NATO partners.

Many U.S. and Afghan officials fear that some Afghan army and police units simply will crumble as coalition forces leave in the next two years and Taliban insurgents increase pressure on the government.

Nor did either candidate mention other key threats to Afghan stability: rampant corruption, the failure of President Hamid Karzai's government to provide basic services to the population, and Pakistan's continued support for some elements of the Taliban. A good follow-up question would have centered on the potential for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

During a Republican primary debate, Romney opposed any negotiations with the Taliban. Does he still hold that view?

Obama has been supportive of possible peace talks, but his administration failed to aggressively pursue reconciliation, largely because of infighting in Washington, during the first year of the troop surge.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor. He has served as national editor and as bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo and Southeast Asia.

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