KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton painted a positive picture of Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces in a visit Saturday and promised Afghans that the United States would never abandon their country, but several Afghans weary of the U.S. presence expressed doubt.
Clinton also announced during her visit to the Afghan capital that President Barack Obama had officially designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally of the United States – a move she described as “a powerful symbol of our commitment to Afghanistan's future.”
However, most Afghans McClatchy spoke to Saturday were skeptical about much of what Clinton said.
“Perhaps in the short-term the United States will support us,” said Hassan Reza, a 62-year-old fruit seller from Kabul. “But in the long-term, their interests may change, and then they might abandon us.”
With Afghanistan’s security forces, set to take responsibility for defending their country when U.S.-led coalition troops leave by the end of 2014, Clinton said that “the security situation is more stable.”
But other than saying that the move would give Afghanistan access to defense supplies as well as “certain kinds of training and capacity building,” Clinton was short on specifics about what it would mean.
Reza said Clinton’s enthusiastic remarks about the Afghan security forces were at odds with reality. “We have an army, but it’s an army in name only,” he said. “The military we have is not capable of defending the country.”
Qadir, a 22-year-old shopkeeper, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said he did not think the U.S. would abandon Afghanistan after 2014 “because they have invested a lot here. They will stay here for their own interests.”
But he described Clinton’s claims about the security situation as “absolute lies.”
“Kabul is the capital, and even the capital is not secure,” Qadir said. “One day we have an attack in one corner of the city; the next day, in another. If you look at the provinces, it’s even worse,” he said.
“I’m from Wardak, and I can’t even travel to my own province. We are like refugees in our own country. The Taliban dominate the country after four o’clock (in the afternoon), not the government.”
Even those Kabulis who said they were supporters of the U.S. and grateful for America’s contribution to re-building Afghanistan expressed concern about what they said was the declining security situation.
“America has done a great job in Afghanistan throughout the last 10 years,” said Chaman Ali, a 33-year-old from Wardak. “Security in Kabul is really good, but in the provinces it’s not safe. The Taliban are getting stronger and creating fear and intimidation.”
Mohammad Naim, a 19-year-old photographer, said that the security situation was “100 percent better” than it had been a year ago, “but the Afghan military is only 50 percent capable of defending the country at the moment.”
Naim said every Afghan was worried that the U.S. would turn its back on Afghanistan after they had withdrawn combat troops from the country. “But they must not abandon us,” he said. “You can’t abandon a country when you’re only halfway to achieving your mission.”
As if to underscore the precarious security situation here, there was a flurry of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan not long after Clinton spoke.
Around 10:30 a.m. Saturday an improvised explosive device, or homemade bomb, killed seven people in the Chora district of the restive southern province of Uruzgan. All the victims were adult men, said Farid Hayel, the spokesman for Uruzgan’s police chief.
Also Saturday morning, one civilian was killed and 28 wounded when a bomb exploded and rockets were fired in Farah city, the capital of the remote western province of Farah, said the province’s head of security, Mohammad Ghaus Malyar. He said the wounded included 12 children.
He said four rockets landed near the Farah governor’s compound – the target of the attack – but only three exploded. Security forces had also found and defused a second bomb in the city, Malyar said.
“These attacks were committed by the Taliban in response to an operation in this province that was conducted recently by Afghan and foreign forces. They achieved nothing other than demonstrating their presence here,” he said.
U.S. Marine General John R. Allen, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, as the coalition is formally known, condemned the killing and wounding of civilians in Farah.
“Once again I call upon (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar to end these brutal attacks. If he really is in control of these elements of the Taliban, this should be possible,” Allen said.
A statement Saturday from the coalition said that one of its service members had died following an improvised explosive device attack in southern Afghanistan. ISAF did not confirm the nationality of the dead service member or provide other details about the incident.
Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Ali Safi contributed to this story from Kabul.