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As US Troops Drawdown, Foreign Civilians May Become Soft Targets

NBC News' Richard Engel explains why militants in Afghanistan are now targeting civilians.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan are increasingly hard to attack.

First of all, there aren’t as many of them anymore and they hardly patrol. The U.S. mission now is to train and mentor Afghan security forces. It’s done mainly from the confines of fortified bases. Whenever U.S. troops meet Afghans, they have “guardian angels” nearby, armed soldiers in “full battle rattle.” If an Afghan soldier tried to shoot his American trainer in a so-called insider attack, he would likely be killed quickly.

With American troops ever more rare and protected, militants in Afghanistan appear to have moved to softer targets, including journalists, humanitarian workers, and on Thursday, volunteer doctors.

Journalists, relief workers and doctors still move around Afghanistan. They never lived in bases. There was never a “green zone” in Afghanistan. Humanitarian workers and foreign reporters also don’t have "guardian angels" in tow.

But killing civilians is cowardly. It’s hardly surprising the militants, including the Taliban, aren’t rushing to claim responsibility for attacking them. The militants have long preferred to fight U.S. and NATO troops. It was more honorable to have combatants doing battle with combatants. It seems, however, the militants these days will take whatever targets they can get.

Killing foreign civilians also has the potential to reverse the progress Afghanistan has seen over the past decade. The CURE hospital in Kabul attacked on Thursday treats 37,000 Afghans a year alone. Foreign aid projects have pumped billions of dollars into the Afghan economy.

If foreigners are driven out, the dollars and euros will likely go with them and Afghans will suffer for it. The Taliban may pine for a pre-industrial society, but most Afghans do not.