We are reminded by the commander of the special operations unit with whom we are living not to broadcast names or faces of Afghan security force personnel. The local district governor is speaking through an interpreter. He doesn't pull any punches: "You must not abandon us again. You helped us expel the Soviets and then left us to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Look what happened to you. When you came back, we put our lives and our families at risk because you told us you would help us rebuild our country. But now you are leaving before the job is done. We have enemies to our east and west. They are your enemies, as well. But your deadline means we are dead."
It's a familiar refrain throughout this trip to Afghanistan. Over the past two weeks, we have heard similar messages from Afghan officials and police chiefs in Kandahar, Kabul, Helmand, Zabul and Wardak provinces. At every location, the story is basically the same: "The Americans left Iraq. Now they are leaving Afghanistan."
For people here, evidence of the just-completed drawdown is ubiquitous. When the "fighting season" began this spring, there were more than 100,000 U.S. military personnel deployed on bases around the country. The withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. surge troops -- leaving fewer than 68,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on the ground -- means scores of these outposts now are manned by Afghan forces or simply abandoned.
But it's the Obama administration's well-publicized "exit strategy" that causes the greatest apprehension among Afghan officials and civilians. This week at a conference in Brussels, NATO leaders reaffirmed the Obama plan to end all coalition combat operations next year and withdraw the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in 2014.
In neighboring Pakistan and Iran, anti-American propaganda mills and radical Islamists are exploiting the anxiety about the future. Taliban, al-Qaida and Haqqani network "information ministries" routinely churn out claims that they are "driving out the infidel occupiers" while issuing threats to kill the "puppets who cooperate with them."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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