A security agreement signed by Afghanistan’s new president last month allows nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country beyond the end of 2014, but despite the plan for a continued U.S. presence here, Afghanistan’s future is far from settled.
Despite billions of dollars spent training and equipping the Afghan National Army, some observers believe the Taliban could still wrest back control of major portions of the country. After this December, there will be few allied forces to help fight back, and the American appetite for combat in Afghanistan continues to decrease.
On KAF, soldiers openly speculate about the possibility of the United States being drawn back into a shooting war here, either against a revitalized Taliban, or perhaps against a still-growing Islamic State.
“I've talked to some guys from here,” Specialist Zac Roberts told us one night. “They've said that it will happen the exact same thing as Iraq, that the Taliban will come back... however long it takes again.”
Several soldiers with combat experience beside Afghan forces praised their abilities, but said they need more time and training before being able to stand on their own against the Taliban.
“I know that Kandahar is going to be here a lot longer than I am,” Lieutenant Adam Winters said simply.
The Pentagon will spend $176 million to run Kandahar Air Field this year. Beyond that, the base’s budget, future size and mission are closely guarded secrets.
Contractors in the control tower say they will soon begin training Afghan counterparts to take over.
Afghans who work on the base say they make far better money here than they would working in Kandahar City, but they accept greater risk. One man told us he lies about what he does for a living, concerned about possible extortion or kidnap attempts.
For the men and women of the 276th, the end of their portion of the war will bring challenges too—many have no jobs to go home to. At least five soldiers with the unit began divorce proceedings during this deployment.
Still, they look forward to coming home before the holidays, and their own uncertain futures. One combat veteran told us he wants to become a veterinarian instead. Another said he’s most looking forward to holding his newborn son.
Afghanistan’s problems will belong to someone else.