Image: An Afghan woman waits for Marines to search her home
Adress Latif  /  Reuters file
An Afghan woman waits with U.S. Marines outside her home in Helmand Province while it is searched on Dec. 23, 2009.
updated 11/21/2010 12:16:37 PM ET 2010-11-21T17:16:37

U.S. and NATO forces will stay in Afghanistan for at least another four years, yet there are growing signs that the West has already worn out its welcome.

Foreigner fatigue is becoming more apparent among Afghans as the U.S. and its international partners try to shore up support among their own populations for continuing the fight. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders approved plans during a weekend summit in Lisbon, Portugal, for Afghans to move into the lead role in fighting the Taliban and its allies by the end of 2014.

The reasons for Afghan patience running out are numerous. The war is in its 10th year, and progress is only mixed at best. Tactics like night raids on homes to capture militants fuel resentment in a society with a centuries-long tradition of resistance to foreign domination. In a sign of the ill-will, Afghans often blame coalition troops for killing civilians even though the Taliban and militants kill more.

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Moreover, the Western footprint has grown. The buildup of 30,000 U.S. reinforcements this year made the foreign presence even more overt, but underscored Afghan feeling that all the troops and billions in aid haven't substantially improved their daily lives.

"I don't think NATO has done much good," said Siyal Khan Farahi, a 39-year-old contractor in Kandahar in the south, where the Taliban insurgency was born. "They are spending millions of dollars over here but I don't see many signs of prosperity or anything that can change the people's standard of life."

"America calls itself a superpower, but they can't control these insurgents so they should leave this place."

The concern among international representatives is that the sentiment will undermine NATO's attempts to win public loyalty away from the Taliban. Reflecting the mood, President Hamid Karzai has grown more vocal in criticizing the roughly 147,000 international troops on his country's soil.

Story: NATO: We won't abandon Afghanistan after war

Karzai's comments in turn make it difficult for Obama and other Western leaders to sell their war policies at home, if there's a perception even Afghans don't want troops there.

Bitterness has even bubbled up among factions that fought side-by-side with the West to topple the Taliban in 2001.

One recent day, a group of former fighters loyal to Ahmad Shah Massoud — the famed anti-Taliban commander killed by suicide bombers just two days before the Sept. 11 attacks — railed against U.S. involvement, saying they caused civilian deaths and had at times disrepected Afghan culture and the Muslim faith.

Standing at Massoud's marble tomb in the Panjshir Valley, they watched as American soldiers took off their combat boots and walked around taking snapshots of the tomb.

"They are the problem — the foreigners," one of the former fighters, Mohammad Mahfuz whispered as he pointed their way. "They came here for their own security and are making life difficult for the nation."

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Anti-foreigner sentiment is easily inflamed.

In July, an angry crowd rioted in Kabul, shouting "Death to America!" after U.S. contract employees were involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans. The crowd hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles before Afghan police moved the contractors to safety.

Last week, Karzai said Afghans are skeptical because they are getting mixed messages about why international forces are here. He bluntly declared NATO must cut back the "intrusiveness" of its forces.

That runs counter to the U.S. war strategy of interacting with the public in areas cleared of insurgents, bolstering governance and rushing in development aid. The counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, instructs his troops to: "Earn people's trust. Talk to them. ... Listen. Consult and drink lots of tea."

Video: Afghan airmen slowly earning their wings (on this page)

American officials recognized the possibility of a popular backlash given the large cultural differences and Afghans' history of rejection of foreign domination. Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said recently in Islamabad that there were lengthy discussions about whether the U.S. surge in forces would create further animosity.

Mistrust between Afghans, their government and the international community grew significantly in the past year and a half, a July report from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs found.

The report pinned this on growing fatigue with an international presence that "has yielded insufficient results for the vast majority of the Afghan populace in comparison to the cost in lives and resources."

Suspicion of Western motives is deep in some areas. An informal October survey of 1,000 people in Kandahar and Helmand provinces — two battle areas where winning over the population is key — found that 40 percent believe international forces aim to destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan.

Also, 92 percent were unaware of the Sept. 11 attacks and that they triggered the international move against the Taliban, according to the poll by the London-based International Council on Security and Development.

There is also resentment against Western aid workers, who live in heavily guarded upscale homes, shop in expensive Western-style supermarkets and drive large vehicles with tinted windows.

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"Some are good and some are bad," said Abdul Saleem, who sells telephone cards on Kabul's streets. "They shouldn't try to bring their culture here. If they are drinking, they are not respecting Afghan law."

The most friction has come over civilian deaths and the NATO tactic of night searches.

The number of Afghan civilians killed or injured soared 31 percent in the first six months of the year, but they were largely caused by Taliban attacks, according to the United Nations.

Casualties from NATO and Afghan government forces dropped 30 percent compared with the first half of 2009, mainly because of curbs on the use of airpower and heavy weapons, the U.N. said.

Still, there is widespread perception among Afghans that NATO operations kill innocents. Afghan villagers routinely protest when civilians die. The coalition, meanwhile, has started sending out news releases about civilians killed by insurgents.

Night raids, which Karzai has pressed to stop, have been on the rise and now average more than 200 a month.

NATO has revised its rules of conduct on night raids. Afghan security forces use bullhorns to ask targeted individuals to give themselves up peacefully. The coalition says no shots are fired in more than 80 percent of the raids and civilian casualties occur in just over 1 percent of all special operations missions.

But in Kabul, Ahmad Wase Ahmadzai, who runs a grocery, said the raids are very disruptive since troops close off large areas while they're being conducted.

Ahmadzai has put blast film on the windows of his shop because he fears the frequently passing NATO vehicles will attract an insurgent attack.

"Whatever they do," he says of the foreign forces, "the Afghan people will never accept them being here forever."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Afghan families confront life during war

  1. Transcript of: Afghan families confront life during war

    LESTER HOLT, anchor (Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan): As Americans back home get ready for Thanksgiving this week, we have just reached the end of a holiday period here in Afghanistan . And so we close tonight with a look at something we don't see enough of here, real life. In a way it's what the fighting here is all about, preserving the rights of ordinary people to live their lives at peace and care for their families, something that can be enormously difficult in a country at war. Life goes on in the popular Kabul bake shop where Haji Mohamed Jafari works. War or not, customers come and go, buying treats for the holy Muslim holiday Eid . Jafari is back in Kabul after 22 years living in Iran . He and his family fled there after he was wounded fighting the Russians during their Afghanistan occupation. Back at the family's home, his 89-year-old father-in-law, visiting for the holiday, prays.

    Unidentified Man:

    HOLT: Eid mubarak .

    Mr. HAJI MOHAMED JAFARI: Eid mubarak .

    HOLT: I was honored to be welcomed into the Jafaris home on the first day of the festive holiday, and invited to sit as tea, nuts and sweets, baked by Haji , were laid before me. You make all these?

    Mr. JAFARI: Oh.

    ATIA ABAWI reporting:

    Mr. JAFARI:

    ABAWI: Yes, he made them all.

    HOLT: These are very good. You should sell these in America .

    Mr. JAFARI:

    ABAWI: He says, 'Take me to America and I'll sell it there and make it there.'

    HOLT: My colleague, NBC correspondent Atia Abawi , joined me to translate. How do you celebrate Eid ?


    Mr. JAFARI:

    ABAWI: He says on Eid they want people to celebrate in peace and just enjoy. These are his grandchildren.

    HOLT: He showed me more family photos, and I shared some of mine. This is my sons...


    HOLT: ...and my father.


    HOLT: Haji talked about his daughters and his hopes for them.

    ABAWI: He himself is illiterate. His hope is that his kids, his daughters will get an education so they won't have to struggle the way that he struggled.

    HOLT: I think many Americans feel the same way. We always want better for our children than what we had. Hakeema has finished her studies and wants to be a dentist. In English , she told me of the often harsh reality of living in Kabul .

    HAKEEMA: Our culture is weak. We are afraid that explode, ex...

    ABAWI: Explosion.

    HAKEEMA: ...explosion of bomb.

    HOLT: But on this holiday, Hakeema and her family wish for a peaceful future as they celebrate the traditions of Eid , family, friends and the giving of gifts. My thanks to our hosts. And this week has much more in store for us here in Afghanistan , including Thanksgiving live with the troops, something I'm really looking forward to.


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