Updated: Sept. 18, 2012 American officials entered 2012 hoping they were nearing a turning point in Afghanistan and the nation’s longest war, which began with a United States invasion two months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. United States special forces, working with troops from Afghanistan’s minority ethnic groups, quickly routed the Taliban, the extremist Islamic government that had given refuge to Al Qaeda. After a new government was installed, however, American resources were diverted to prepare for what became the war in Iraq. Working from safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban rebounded, and by 2008 controlled major areas of Afghanistan and was terrorizing others. In 2009, President Obama ordered a surge of more than 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, in the hope of wearing down the Taliban military to the point where it would be willing to consider negotiations. With troop levels winding down in Iraq, Afghanistan became the country’s primary conflict. At the same time, Mr. Obama promised to bring the war to a “successful conclusion,” saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitment. In his first year in office, Mr. Obama’s thinking about what he once called “a war of necessity” began to radically change. He concluded that the Bush-era dream of remaking Afghanistan was a fantasy, and that the far greater threat to the United States was an unstable, nucleararmed Pakistan. So he narrowed the goals in Afghanistan, and narrowed them again, until he could make the case that America had achieved limited objectives in a war that was, in any traditional sense, unwinnable. In June 2011, a month after United States special forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Mr. Obama declared that America had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, setting in motion an aggressive timetable for the withdrawal of troops by 2014. In a major milestone, on Feb. 1, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that American

forces would step back from a combat role there as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops were scheduled to come home. The hope is that a political accord can be brokered with the Taliban that would at least limit instability in the wake of the American departure. In June, Afghan officials said that contacts with Taliban representatives had resumed, although Americans played down their significance. A milestone was reached in August 2012, when the United States military reached 2,000 dead in Afghanistan, based on an analysis by The New York Times of Department of Defense records. Curtailing Joint Operations; Video Incites Violence In mid-September 2012, the American-led military coalition said it was sharply curtailing ground-level operations with the Afghan Army and police forces, potentially undercutting the training mission that is the heart of the Western exit strategy. Coalition officials stressed that their officers would still be paired with higher-level Afghan units, and that the basic concept of training, advising and fighting alongside Afghan units in the field to ready them to fight on their own remained at the core of war strategy. The new limits, which were issued on Sept. 16 and require a general’s approval for any joint work at the small-unit level, were prompted by a spike in attacks on international troops by Afghan soldiers and police in recent weeks. There was also fear that anger over an anti-Islam trailer for a film called “Innocence of Muslims” could prompt more of what the coalition calls insider attacks, American officials said. Violence connected to the incendiary video hit Kabul on Sept. 18, when a suicide bomber killed 14 people, 10 of them foreigners, bringing to at least 28 the number of deaths attributed to the trailer. A spokesman for an Afghan insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it was carried out by an 18-year-old woman.

Handing Over Security to the Afghans In mid-May 2012, at a NATO summit meeting in Chicago, President Obama and leaders of America’s NATO allies formally agreed to hand over the primary role in providing security in Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves in the summer of 2013, beginning the end of the United States’s involvement in a decade-long war. The two-day meeting was intended to ratify a policy for Afghanistan that marks a significant retreat from the ambitious goals the United States and NATO once sought. At the same time, it was intended to reassure President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan that the Western powers will not abandon the country once all NATO troops leave in 2014. One of the many hurdles to a successful handoff is the extent to which American forces on the ground have become reliant on an extraordinary effort in the air that is unlikely to continue after a pullout. In carefully choreographed killings of the Taliban’s tactical commanders, use of heavier ordnance to beat back Taliban attacks, and efforts to keep roads clear of improvised fertilizer bombs, conventional American warplanes have been integrated into the finest details of ground war. These missions, distinct from the C.I.A.-run drone program, have allowed a relatively small Western combat force, with just tens of thousands of troops actually patrolling each day, to wage war across a sprawling nation of 30 million people. Insider Attacks Rise; U.S. Halts Training In recent years, there has been a rise in attacks by Afghan forces against their coalition counterparts. The attacks, which the military calls “green-on-blue” or “insider” assaults, have heightened worries about how the coalition troops, who are training members of the Afghan Army and the police, can protect themselves while working at close quarters with Afghan forces. August 2012 was a particularly violent month. On Aug. 9 and 10, eight American and British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan in

such attacks, making it one of the deadliest 36 hours here this year. Six of the eight soldiers killed were attacked while they were inside bases and in the company of their Afghan counterparts. On Aug. 13, two more “green on blue” attacks occurred. In one case, in southern Afghanistan, the attacker did no harm; in the second attack, in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province, two international soldiers were injured. An Afghan soldier was also injured when NATO soldiers fired on the attacker, said the police chief of Nangarhar. On Aug. 17, two American Special Forces members were shot to death by a new Afghan local police recruit they were training at a small outpost in western Afghanistan. On the same day, in the south, an Afghan security force member turned his weapon on other international service personnel, wounding two American soldiers, according to NATO and Afghan officials. In early September, American officials said that the training of Afghan Local Police and special operations forces had been put on hold while their American trainers conducted stricter vetting to try to root out any infiltrators or new recruits who could pose risks to the coalition troops working with them. The move did not affect the vast majority of Afghan forces — more than 350,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan National Police members — who are still being trained and are still working in the field with American and NATO counterparts, military officials said. The hold affected those Afghan units overseen by American Special Operations forces: Afghan Local Police and special forces units, which, combined, number over 20,000, or roughly seven percent of all Afghan forces. In mid-September, Afghan security forces killed six service members from the American-led military coalition in a pair of attacks in southern Afghanistan, pushing the number of international troops killed by Afghan forces in a single year past 50 for the first time. The coalition’s ambition to leave behind a stable Afghanistan that can fend off the Taliban hinges on readying the country’s army and police for the task. Yet the spread of insider attacks has left coalition forces

increasingly mistrustful of the Afghan forces they are training and fighting alongside. Insider Attacks Prompt NATO to Shift Policy In mid-August, Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, called an urgent meeting of his generals to address the escalating death toll in insider attacks. In a room crowded with more than 40 commanders, the general underscored the need to quickly stop the bloodletting that is sapping morale, according to NATO officials, part of a new emphasis on protecting American and NATO forces after a spate of attacks that included the killing of six Marine trainers a week earlier. In one of a series of recent steps, the military decreed that American and NATO service members should always carry a loaded magazine in their weapons, to save precious moments if attacked by Afghan forces. Another initiative, now a priority, is a program named “Guardian Angel” that calls for one or two soldiers to monitor the Afghans during every mission or meeting, officials say. The “angels,” whose identities are not disclosed to the Afghans, must be prepared to fire on anyone who tries to kill a coalition service member. On Aug. 20, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan for discussions on the progress of the war, including the wave of insider attacks, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal. While General Dempsey was at Bagram air base, rockets or other projectiles fired by insurgents damaged the C-17 transport plane that he traveled on, forcing him to leave Afghanistan a few hours later than planned and on a different aircraft. General Dempsey was not on the plane when it was fired on; two base military personnel were slightly wounded. Ragtag Revolts in Parts of the Country Repel Taliban

During the summer of 2012, in small mountain villages on Taliban turf in eastern Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen took up arms to fight the insurgents, fed up with their heavy-handed tactics of closing schools and threatening families whose sons had joined the Afghan Army. What began as a ragtag uprising by rural woodcutters and shopkeepers in a few villages in Laghman Province expanded into something extraordinary: over July and August, the Taliban presence in the entire district, and then in a neighboring one, had been largely silenced. And in another eastern province, Ghazni, villagers ignited a similar movement to drive the Taliban away. The uprisings, however, were far from a simple case of outrage growing into action. They spread quickly, but in considerable part because commanders from a rival militant faction, Hezb-i-Islami, saw a chance to gain ground against the Taliban, and because Afghan government officials saw the movement as a valuable opportunity to help local leaders organize against the insurgents. At its heart, the uprising in the Laghman villages began not because of support for the government, or even because of hatred of the Taliban as a whole, but because the wrong Taliban had come to power: Locals say they resented the more extreme religious teachings and draconian enforcement by militants who had come from far-off provinces and from Pakistan. For Hezb-i-Islami, it was a continuation of an on-and-off battle with the Taliban for dominance. Though Hezb-i-Islami is rooted in a conservative Islamist worldview, it is seen as generally less rigid than the Taliban, allowing girls to attend school and permitting some other aspects of modern life. In any possible future reconciliation with the insurgency, the faction most likely to engage in a peace deal would be Hezb-i-Islami, former Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker said in a recent interview. In that light, both the Afghan government and the Americans are inclined to support the group’s fight against the Taliban. Overview Background

1979-1996: The Soviet Invasion and After 1996-2001: The Taliban Takeover 2001-2008 2008-2012: Obama’s War Obama’s Surprise Visit to Sign Partnership Agreement Afghanistan: For Obama, Lessons Learned ‘Afghan Good Enough’ Series of Incidents Incites Anger Toward the U.S. A Massacre of Civilians Heightens Tensions Koran Protests: Casting a Shadow on U.S. Pullout The Taliban: Not the Only Concern Principals in Civil War Still in Power Overview The United States has been militarily involved in Afghanistan since 2001, when it led an invasion after the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda. The group had been given safe haven in the country by the Taliban, the extremist Islamic group that had seized control in 1996 after years of civil war. The 2001 invasion succeeded in dislodging Al Qaeda and removing the Taliban from power, but not in eradicating either group. With American military efforts focused on Iraq, the Taliban made a steady comeback, fueled by profits from the opium trade, dissatisfaction with the weak and often corrupt Afghan government, and safe havens in Pakistan. President Obama made Afghanistan the central military focus of his administration, drawing troops out of Iraq and increasing the number in Afghanistan by almost 50,000. He put Gen. David H. Petraeus, the

architect of the 2007 “surge’' in Iraq, in command of American forces in Afghanistan, and the pace of American operations stepped up enormously, initially in the Taliban’s strongholds in the south. General Petraeus was succeeded by Lt. Gen. John R. Allen of the Marine Corps in 2011. But between claims of tactical success on the ground and the strategy of handing off to Afghan forces lies what one colonel called “the great disconnect.’' The Taliban and the groups it collaborates with remain deeply rooted; the Afghan military and police remain lackluster and given to widespread drug use; the country’s borders remain porous; Kabul Bank, which processes government salaries, is wormy with fraud, and Mr. Karzai’s government, by almost all accounts, remains weak, corrupt and erratically led. And the Pakistani frontier remains a Taliban safe haven. Background Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, has known little peace since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded. Now it is the scene of what has become the central military struggle for the United States, as American forces try to help a weak and corrupt government tame a stubborn insurgency. Afghanistan’s strategic location, at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, has long granted it a pivotal role in the region, while its terrain and population have stymied wouldbe conquerors for centuries. The country’s population is 34 million. Its capital is Kabul. 1979-1996: The Soviet Invasion and After Three decades ago, Afghanistan was a stable, relatively prosperous and relatively secular country. The turmoil and extremism that have dominated its history since then can be traced to the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union and the reaction both by Afghans and by their allies in the United States and Pakistan.

In the 19th century, the imperial Russian government vied with Britain for influence in Central Asia in the Great Game — a web of diplomatic intrigue and espionage. But it was almost a century later that Moscow’s role in Afghan affairs reached its peak, when the Soviet invasion descended into a prolonged and bloody occupation that was in many ways comparable to the American experience in Vietnam. The first Soviet troops parachuted into Kabul on Dec. 27, 1979, to assist Babrak Karmal, who had become president in a coup within the Afghan Communist leadership. Moscow insisted that the troops came in response to a plea for help from a legitimately constituted Karmal Government. But most Western analysts say the Soviets engineered the coup as a pretext to replace Hafizullah Amin, the Afghan leader, who had lost their trust. Soviet troops stayed in the country for more than nine years, fighting a conflict that cost them roughly 15,000 lives and undisclosed billions of rubles, while undermining the cherished image of an invincible Soviet Army. The Kabul Government generally kept a firm grip on the cities, but throughout the war was unable to rout the rebels in the countryside, where the conservative populace was antagonized at the outset by changes in social and land policies that offended Muslim tradition. After 1986, the Soviet Air Force was also rendered largely useless by advanced Stinger antiaircraft missiles supplied by the United States to the rebels. Eventually, after peace talks moderated by the United Nations, the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in February 1989, in what was in effect a unilateral withdrawal. They left behind a country that was not only devastated by the war but that had become a beacon to Islamic extremists from across the globe who had come to assist in the fighting, including Osama bin Laden and the group he helped found, Al Qaeda. After Soviet forces departed, Afghanistan descended into vicious internecine strife; by the summer of 1994, power was anarchically divided among competing warlords and individual fiefdoms. But one group would eventually gain control. 1996-2001: The Taliban Takeover

The Taliban grew out of a student movement dedicated to purifying the country, based in the southeast, the home of the dominant ethnic group, the Pashtun. In a story that is now part of Afghan folklore, the group’s first action occurred when Mullah Omar, a Pashtun who had lost an eye fighting the Soviets, gathered a small band of men and attacked a group of warlords who had raped a girl and shaved her head. By the end of 1994 Mullah Omar had nearly 12,000 followers and was rolling up the warlords to the north and east. With his promise of restoring the centrality of Islam to daily life, he created a genuinely popular movement in a country weary of corruption and brutality. Yet even with popular support, the Taliban might have withered were it not for the intervention of Pakistan, the neighbor to the east. As early as 1994, Pakistani intelligence officers began funneling arms, money and supplies to Mullah Omar’s men, as well as military advisers to help guide them in battle. Buoyed by Pakistani aid, the Taliban by 1996 had taken control of Afghanistan, imposing strict enforcement of fundamentalist Islamic law, banning movies and music and forcing women out of schools and into all-enveloping burqa clothing. The Taliban also provided a haven for Mr. bin Laden, who arrived by chartered jet at Jalalabad Airport in May 1996, and for Al Qaeda. Western diplomats say Al Qaeda helped persuade Mullah Omar to order the destruction of the 800-year-old Buddha statues at Bamiyan, an act condemned around the world. International criticism of the Taliban’s harsh measures had little effect on the regime, which seemed almost to welcome pariah status. 2001-2008 Post 9/11 Invasion After the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave the Taliban an ultimatum to hand over Mr. bin Laden. When it refused, the United States joined forces with rebel groups that had never accepted Taliban rule, notably

the Northern Alliance, which represented minority tribes. An air and ground campaign began that drove the Taliban out of the major Afghan cities by the end of the year. Remnants of Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership retreated to Tora Bora in the mountains along the Pakistan border and eventually escaped after a battle there, primarily involving Afghan forces allied with the United States. The Karzai Government In December 2001, Hamid Karzai, a supporter and relative of Mohammad Zahir Shah, the exiled former king of Afghanistan, was named chairman of an interim government that replaced the defeated Taliban, making him the leader of the country. He took office as interim president in June 2002, saying he hoped to secure peace for Afghanistan and win the country much-needed international aid. Mr. Karzai was elected to a five-year term as president in 2004. During the Bush administration, Mr. Karzai — a celebrity in flowing cape and dark gray karakul cap — was also a White House favorite. His popularity, though, steadily plunged, at home as well as abroad, as Mr. Karzai faced an Afghan population that blamed him for the manifest lack of economic progress and the corrupt officials who seem to stand at every doorway of his government. The Taliban Resurgence Despite their defeat in 2001, the Taliban continued to wage a guerrilla warfare from a base in the mountainous and largely lawless tribal area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. As the American military focus was diverted to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Taliban regrouped and began to extend its influence in the southern part of Afghanistan. Their rise was assisted by a resurgent opium trade, which helped to fill the group’s coffers. Dealing with vast areas and limited manpower, the American-led coalition has held the cities and highways, but, faced with an

increasingly vigorous insurgency, ceded large parts of the countryside to the Taliban. The Taliban also spilled over into Pakistan, raising concerns about its stability, and making Afghanistan once more a top foreign policy priority for the Western Allies. A six-year archive of classified military documents, released by Wikileaks, painted a bleak, ground-level view of the conflict. They amounted to a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year. 2008-2012: Obama’s War Mr. Obama’s plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan was shaped by a debate in which Vice President Biden warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops. General Petraeus, the Iraq commander who received much of the credit for the success of the surge there, had taken charge of United States Central Command in October 2008, with responsibility for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and across the region. Mr. Gates later brought in General Stanley A. McChystal, an expert in counterinsurgency warfare who for years had viewed the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a particularly thorny problem. In June 2010, President Obama removed Gen. McChrystal after contemptuous quotes from the general and his staff about senior administration officials appeared in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. Mr. Obama tapped Gen. Petraeus to lead the war effort there. In a speech delivered Dec. 1, 2009, at West Point, Mr. Obama announced his plan to deploy 30,000 additional troops. He vowed to start bringing American forces home from Afghanistan in the middle of 2011, saying the United States could not afford and should not have to shoulder an open-ended commitment.

The military’s plans for 2012 emphasize deploying American and allied military trainers directly within Afghan security units, lessening the direct combat role of NATO. In February 2012, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that American forces would step back from a combat role there as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops were scheduled to come home. Mr. Panetta cast the decision as an orderly step in a withdrawal process long planned by the United States and its allies, but his comments were the first time that the United States had put a date on stepping back from its central role in the war. The defense secretary’s words reflected the Obama administration’s eagerness to bring to a close the second of two grinding ground wars it inherited from the Bush administration. Promising the end of the American combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013 would also give Mr. Obama a certain applause line in his reelection stump speech in fall 2012. Mr. Panetta said no decisions had been made about the number of American troops to be withdrawn in 2013. In early 2012, the United States had some 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014. Counterinsurgency: Offensives in the South Military operations continued to be the primary tool to further the goal of a stable Afghan state. Much of the war had seen American and NATO forces mounting large operations to clear towns and cities of insurgents. And then after they had swept the area, they seldom, if ever, stationed enough soldiers or police officers to hold the place on their own. And so the Taliban returned — and, after a time, so did the allied forces, to clear the place all over again. With much fanfare, American and NATO military commanders began their largest offensive since 2001 in the Marja section of southern

Afghanistan in mid-February 2010. The move was the prototype for a new type of operation based on the counterinsurgency thinking propounded by Gen. McChrystal. In Marja, a Taliban stronghold, American and Afghan commanders said they would do something they have never done before: bring in an Afghan government and police force behind them. American and British troops would stay on to support them. But the operation did not go nearly as well as hoped, and the area is still not sufficiently controlled for the local government’s activities to resume or take root. Due perhaps to the difficulties in Marja, the prospect of a robust military push in Kandahar Province, which had been widely expected to begin in June 2010, evolved into a strategy that put civilian reconstruction efforts first and relegated military action to a supportive role. However, in late September 2010, American and Afghan troops finally began active combat in an offensive to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds surrounding the city of Kandahar. American and Afghan forces seemed to be routing the Taliban in much of Kandahar Province by late October, forcing many hardened fighters, faced with the buildup of American forces, to flee strongholds they had held for years. Corruption and Rigged Elections Transparency International, an advocacy organization that tracks government corruption around the globe, ranks Afghanistan as the world’s third most corrupt country, behind Somalia and Myanmar. In the hundreds of diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and released in December 2010, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest official is a distinct outlier. The widespread corruption is made possible in part by a largely unregulated banking infrastructure and the ancient hawala money transfer network that is the method of choice for politicians, insurgents and drug traffickers to move cash around the Muslim world.

Mr. Karzai won re-election in 2009, but in a manner that weakened his standing and his government. The vote was held in August, and Mr. Karzai quickly declared that he had exceeded the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff. But it quickly became obvious that a large number of ballots were fraudulent. The tampering was almost entirely in favor of Mr. Karzai. After heavy pressure from American officials, Mr. Karzai agreed to a runoff, but his most serious challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race, scrapping the plan. Parliamentary elections in 2010 were also flawed. At stake was the makeup of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament and the only body with the power to question the policies of President Karzai. More than 20 percent of the ballots were thrown out for fraud. The voting itself was so tainted — by ballot-box stuffing and armed intimidation of voters, among other tactics — that many candidates appealed the vote totals to a second electoral body, the Independent Election Commission, which finalized the results of the election in November 2010. President Karzai attempted to change the makeup of the new parliament by undermining the I.E.C. by creating a special court, which he later dissolved under international pressure. After months of intense political pressure, in mid-August 2011, the election commission declared that it would change the results of the parliamentary elections. It announced that nine members of Parliament would be removed and nine candidates, previously disqualified over electoral irregularities, would have their seats restored. In a previous ruling, the panel had said that the election results were final and that even it could not change the outcome. Uneasy Progress In its first formal review of its Afghanistan policies since the decision to send more troops, the administration said the United States continues to kill leaders of Al Qaeda and diminish its capacity to launch terrorist attacks from the region. It cited some signs that the United States and its allies have halted or reversed inroads by the Taliban in Afghanistan and strengthened the ability of Afghan forces to secure their country, but acknowledged that the gains are fragile and could be easily undone

unless more progress is made towards hunting down insurgents operating from havens in neighboring Pakistan. In March 2011, General Petraeus said that NATO forces had been able to halt or reverse Taliban gains not only in the south but also around Kabul, and even in the north and west of the country The relationships between the United States, the Afghan government and the Afghan people have continued to be tense, and have repeatedly been damaged by civilian casualties. In April 2011, thousands of protesters, angry at the burning of a Koran at a Florida church, overran the compound of the United Nations in a northern Afghan city. Seven U.N. workers were killed in the attack, and at least 24 others died during protests which continued across the country for days. A ‘Show of Presence’ in the Skies During the long Afghan conflict, the use of air power has changed markedly. At the outset of the war in 2001, American aircraft often attacked in ways that maximized violence, including carpet bombing, dropping cluster munitions and conducting weeks of strikes with precision-guided munitions. A little more than a decade on, there has been a sharp shift in the application of American air power, de-emphasizing overpowering violence in favor of sorties that often end without munitions being dropped. The most common mission of a fighter pilot is what is called an “overwatch,” scanning the ground via infrared sensors and radioing what he sees to troops below. The military also favors what is called a “show of presence” — a midaltitude, nonlethal display intended to reassure ground troops and signal to the Taliban that the soldiers are not alone. Striving for certitude in target selection and minimizing civilian casualties have become standard practice. Projecting power nonlethally is routine. Dropping bombs is not.

The change reflects the political costs and sensitivities of civilian casualties caused by errant or indiscriminate strikes and the increasing use of aerial drones, which can watch over potential targets for extended periods with no risk to pilots or more expensive aircraft. Obama’s Surprise Visit to Sign Partnership Agreement President Obama made a surprise trip to Kabul on May 1, 2012 to sign a landmark strategic partnership agreement between the United States and Afghanistan in a midnight ceremony meant to mark the beginning of the end of a war that has lasted for more than a decade. Mr. Obama arrived after nightfall under a veil of secrecy at Bagram Air Base. He then flew by helicopter to the presidential palace, where he and President Karzai signed the pact, which is intended to be a road map for two nations lashed together by war and groping for a new relationship after the departure of American troops, scheduled for the end of 2014. The strategic partnership agreement, completed after 20 months of arduous negotiations in Washington and Kabul, pledges American support for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of the last American soldiers at the end of 2014. More symbol than substance, it nevertheless marks a pivotal transition for the United States from the largest foreign military force in Afghanistan to a staunch, if faraway, ally. For the president, facing a re-election battle in which his conduct of the war is likely to be debated into November, the visit was laden with political significance. Senior officials said the agreement showcased Mr. Obama’s determination to end the war responsibly, even as they conceded that the country that American troops leave behind will be a messy, violent place, where the Taliban will keep a foothold. Even with the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014, the United States is likely to spend more than $2 billion a year to help Afghanistan with its security. Any civilian aid would come on top of that.

Afghanistan: For Obama, Lessons Learned Behind the narrowed commitments laid out in the agreement lie lessons that have not only shaped Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy but also much of his foreign policy. Fatigue and frustration with the war have defined the strategies his administration has adopted to guide how America intervenes in the world’s messiest conflicts. Out of the experience emerged Mr. Obama’s “light footprint” strategy, in which the United States strikes from a distance but does not engage in years-long, enervating occupations. That doctrine shaped the president’s thinking about how to deal with the challenges that followed — Libya, Syria and a nuclear Iran. Mr. Obama’s top national security aides described the evolution of the president’s views on Afghanistan as a result of three rude discoveries. Mr. Obama began to question why Americans were dying to prop up a leader, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was volatile, unreliable and willing to manipulate the ballot box. Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years. And the more he delved into what it would take to truly change Afghan society, the more he concluded that the task was so overwhelming that it would make little difference whether a large American and NATO force remained for 2 more years, 5 more years or 10 more years. ‘Afghan Good Enough’ Mr. Obama began to reassess whether emerging victorious in Afghanistan was as necessary as he had once proclaimed. Ultimately, Mr. Obama agreed to double the size of the American force while training the Afghan armed forces, but famously insisted that, whether America was winning or losing, the drawdown would begin in just 18 months.

The president’s doubts were cemented as the early efforts to take towns like Marja in Helmand Province took months longer than expected. To Mr. Obama and his aides, Marja proved that progress was possible — but not on the kind of timeline that Mr. Obama thought economically or politically affordable. “Marja looks a lot better than two years ago,” one senior official said at the end of last year. “But how many Marjas do we need to do, and over what time frame?” The tight group of presidential aides charged with answering questions like that — of redefining the mission — began meeting on weekends at the end of 2010. The group’s informal name said it all: “Afghan Good Enough.” “We spent the time asking questions like: How much corruption can we live with?” one participant recalled. “Is there another way — a way the Pentagon might not be telling us about — to speed the withdrawal? What’s the least we can spend on training Afghan troops and still get a credible result?” By early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exit from Afghanistan. This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. While Kandahar and other population centers in the south have seen a decrease in Taliban attacks since the surge forces arrived, insurgent attacks have increased in less populated southern areas, military officials report. The heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, said the Taliban were gaining ground, something that is bound to accelerate once the NATO troops give way to Afghan-led forces. Series of Incidents Incites Anger Toward the U.S. Beginning in February 2012, a series of incidents — including accusations that a United States Army staff sergeant killed 17 Afghan civilians and American troops had burned Korans — increased widespread anger toward the United States, leading to discussions

within the White House about speeding up the withdrawal of troops, and a decision by the Taliban to suspend preliminary talks. In early April, to accelerate the transition of military responsibility to the Afghan government, the United States agreed to hand control of special operations missions to Afghan forces, including night raids, relegating American troops to a supporting role and bringing the raids under Afghan judicial authority. The deal resolved one of the most contentious issues for President Karzai, who faced intense domestic political pressure because of night raids’ deep unpopularity, even as American commanders had insisted they were the linchpin of the military mission in Afghanistan. Just a week later, on April 15, in synchronized attacks clearly designed to undermine confidence in NATO and Afghan security forces, Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen barraged the diplomatic quarter and the Parliament in Kabul for hours and struck three eastern provinces as well. The assaults were an early test for the Afghan forces, who responded with only minimal help from NATO Western officials said the attacks bore the hallmarks of the offshoot Haqqani network of the Taliban, a ruthless crime family that has focused on high-profile Afghan government and foreign targets. A day after the assaults, Western military and intelligence officials acknowledged that they were surprised by the scale and sophistication of the synchronized attacks, seeing them as a troubling step in the evolution of the Haqqani network from a crime mob to a leading militant force. Officials said the attacks raised two pivotal questions: whether the militants had the ability to mount such audacious assaults repeatedly, rather than just once every several months, and whether the Afghan government would be able to blunt such plots after 2014, the deadline for Western troop withdrawal.

A Massacre of Civilians Heightens Tensions In late February 2012, violent anti-American protests broke out throughout Afghanistan after American personnel at Bagram Air Base inadvertently burned Korans. After a period of deepening public outrage, on March 11, Robert Bales, a United States Army sergeant, went from house to house methodically killing 17 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan Mr. Bales was removed from the country by American forces, further angering Afghan officials, who demanded he be tried in Afghanistan. He is being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Following the massacre, Defense Secretary Panetta visited Afghanistan in mid-March. The visit got off to an unscripted start when a stolen truck sped onto a runway ramp at the British military airfield as his plane was landing. Mr. Panetta was unhurt, but Pentagon officials said the Afghan driver emerged from the vehicle in flames and later died. The outrage from the back-to-back episodes imperiled what the Obama administration once saw as an orderly plan for 2012: to speed the training of Afghan forces so that they could take the lead in combat missions, all while drawing the Taliban into negotiations. And in fact, days after the attacks, the American plan suffered dual blows, as President Karzai of Afghanistan demanded that the United States confine troops to major bases by 2013, and the Taliban announced that they were suspending peace talks with the Americans. Koran Protests: Casting a Shadow on U.S. Pullout On Feb. 21, angry protests broke out and shock rippled through Afghanistan as accounts emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned an undisclosed number of Korans and were preparing to burn more. A NATO spokesman said the books had been gathered at a detention facility for suspected insurgents and inadvertently sent for incineration.

The incident sparked days of virulent anti-American demonstrations in which at least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded. In an attempt to quell the anger, President Obama sent a letter of apology to President Karzai of Afghanistan. Despite the apology, the violence escalated. In one attack on Feb. 25, two American soldiers were shot dead inside the Interior Ministry building in Kabul, and NATO responded by immediately pulling all its advisers out of Afghan ministries in Kabul. On Feb. 27, two suicide attackers detonated a car bomb at the entrance to a NATO air base in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least nine Afghans and wounding four NATO personnel. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing as revenge for the burning of the Korans, according to wire service reports. On Feb. 26, President Karzai called for calm during a televised news conference from the presidential palace. The unrest added to the drumbeat of concern about the risks of a strategy that calls for American soldiers and civilians to work closely with Afghans. Even before the Koran burning, there had been a deepening animosity that led to American and coalition forces being killed in increasing numbers. Despite an American-led training effort that has spanned years and cost tens of billions of dollars, the Afghan security forces are still widely seen as riddled with dangerously unreliable soldiers and police officers. The distrust has only deepened as a pattern of attacks by Afghan security forces on American and NATO service members, beginning years ago, has drastically worsened. The Taliban: Not the Only Concern The Taliban has not been the only concern for coalition forces. According to a classified report from January 2012, American and other coalition forces were being killed in increasing numbers by the very Afghan soldiers they fought alongside and trained, in attacks motivated by deep-seated animosity between the supposedly allied forces. And

there is widespread concern among NATO and Afghan commanders about insurgents infiltrating the ranks of the Afghan security forces. In late December 2011, a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform attacked NATO personnel, gunning down two members of the French Foreign Legion in eastern Afghanistan before being fatally shot. The Taliban were quick to take responsibility for the killings, though they often overstate the effectiveness of their forces. In early January 2012, an Afghan soldier turned his gun on American military personnel while they were playing volleyball at a camp in southern Afghanistan, killing one and wounding three others before being fatally shot. A few weeks later, four French service members were killed and a number were wounded when a gunman wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turned his weapon on them in Kapisa Province in eastern Afghanistan. The shootings happened in Tagab District, an area that is viewed as dangerous and dominated by insurgent forces. The attacks prompted French President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce in late January that France would break with its allies in NATO and accelerate the French withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling back combat troops a year early, by the end of 2013. Mr. Sarkozy also said that he and Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, would ask the NATO alliance for a similar speedup of the transfer of primary security responsibilities to Afghan troops. The accelerated French withdrawal has more symbolic than strategic weight. France has the fifth-largest contingent in Afghanistan, with an official count of 3,900 troops. Its forces have been in a largely defensive posture for the past year or longer, focused on preventing any further loss of troops’ lives, according to a NATO official. Since 2001, 82 French troops have been killed in Afghanistan. Principals in Civil War Still in Power A report completed in December 2011, “Conflict Mapping in Afghanistan Since 1978,” prepared by the Afghan Independent Human

Rights Commission, is an 800-page recounting of the atrocities of the Afghan civil war. The report reveals the locations and details of 180 mass graves of civilians or prisoners, many of the sites secret and none of them yet excavated properly. It compiles testimony from survivors and witnesses to the mass interments, and details other war crimes as well. The figures accused in the report of playing some role in mass killings include some of the most powerful figures in Afghanistan’s government and ethnic factions, including the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban in 2001. Among them are First Vice President Fahim, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party, and Second Vice President Karim Khalili, a Hazara leader from the Wahdat Party; Gen. Atta Mohammed Noor, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party and now the governor of the important northern province of Balkh, of which Mazar-i-Sharif is capital; and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord from the Jumbush Party who holds the honorary title of chief of staff to the supreme commander of the Afghan Armed Forces, among many others. Those men gave no response to verbal and written requests for comment about their naming in the report. In all, the researchers who compiled the report said, more than 500 Afghans are named in the report as responsible for mass killings, including the country’s revered national martyr, Ahmed Shah Massoud, one of the last militia leaders to hold out against the Taliban sweep to power and who was assassinated by Al Qaeda just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The report also investigates killings of civilians and prisoners said to be carried out by the Taliban and other insurgents, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami insurgents. Named specifically in the report as responsible for war crimes in massacres of prisoners in Mazar-i-Sharif are two Taliban commanders now held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp — Mullah Fazul Akhund

and Mullah Khairullah Khirkawa — and whose release is thought to be a condition of negotiations with the insurgent group. Shake-up in Afghan Government’s Most Powerful Ministries In August 2012, the chief of Afghanistan’s antigraft commission called for the country’s finance minister, Omar Zakhilwal, to step aside while he is being investigated in connection with corruption allegations, even as the minister appealed to his Western backers for support. Mr. Zakhilwal emphatically denied the allegations and insisted that a smear campaign was under way. The back and forth is just one element of what appears to be a widening shake-up in some of the Afghan government’s most powerful ministries, and notably ones that play a critical role in working with the country’s biggest Western supporters, officials say. The Ministries of Defense, Interior, Mining and Finance — linchpins of United States plans for troop withdrawal and for long-term Afghan development — have all come under intense pressure. The cases are rooted in different political tensions, but taken together they raise the prospect that the West’s already tenuous relationship with the Afghan government could become even less stable. Starting in July, a serious altercation between cabinet members has played out over a new mining law that the mining minister, Wahidullah Shahrani, with advice from Western consultants, has advocated, saying it would give international mining companies the certainty they need to make substantial investments. Passage was blocked by several other cabinet members, who expressed concerns that the draft law gave away too much to international interests, and their view was publicly supported by President Karzai. Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi both were hit with parliamentary no-confidence votes in August. Mr. Wardak resigned on Aug. 7, and Mr. Mohammadi is not expected to last; a search for his replacement is under way.

The Parliament members cited incompetence, nepotism, favoritism and corruption as reasons for seeking their ousters. Few specific allegations were made, however, other than the failure to stop the shelling of Afghan border villages from Pakistan — something that would have been difficult for either official to have achieved without attacking Pakistan, which was not an option from a diplomatic standpoint. The situation left Western donors nervous about whom they will be able to trust with the first installments of the $16 billion in aid they expect to donate over the next four years. Devastating Toll on Civilians A United Nations report released in early August 2012 showed a 15 percent drop in civilian casualties between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2012 compared with the year before. Even so, over that six-month period, 1,145 Afghan women, children and civilian men were killed, and nearly 2,000 were wounded. The Taliban and other armed antigovernment groups were responsible for the vast majority of the casualties. In 2012, 80 percent of the casualties were caused by the antigovernment fighters, while progovernment forces, including the Americans and NATO, could be blamed for just 10 percent, according to the report. The casualties caused by the Americans and NATO dropped 25 percent from the same period in 2011, a figure that reflected in part a recent focus on avoiding airstrikes and reducing casualties in night raids. The remaining casualties, 10 percent, could not be attributed to either side, said James Rodehaver, the acting human rights director for the United Nations office in Kabul. Among the most worrisome findings was an increase in targeted killings, which was all the more alarming because the increase occurred despite an overall decrease in casualties. From January through June, there were 255 such targeted killings, a 53 percent increase over the same period in 2011, Mr. Rodehaver said.

Then, in the five weeks since July 1, there was a 240 percent increase in assassinations over the same period in 2011. And overall civilian casualties for July 2012 were 5 percent above July 2011, suggesting that the positive trend of the last six months is being reversed. The report also looked deeply into the behavior of the Afghan local police, who patrol in villages where there is no regular police presence. The United Nations described complaints about recruitment, vetting, lack of accountability and infiltration by insurgents. And on Aug. 14, 2012, bombings and shootings took the lives of at least 43 Afghans in the deadliest day for civilians this year as insurgents struck while people were preparing for the Muslim holiday that ends the month of Ramadan. The worst death toll came in the southwestern province of Nimruz, where suicide bombers struck the provincial capital, Zaranj, as throngs of people were shopping for the Id al-Fitr holiday. The bombings killed at least 29 people and wounded 57, said Gen. Mohammed Musa Rasuli, the provincial police chief. In Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan, a remotely detonated bomb on a motorcycle exploded in a bazaar just after the evening prayer that breaks the Ramadan fast, killing 10 people, said Sheikh Saadi, the district governor. And in Badakhshan Province, in the far northeast of the country, a district governor and three policemen were killed in a Taliban ambush as they were driving through a remote area, said Abdul Rasul Rasekh, a spokesman for the provincial governor. On Sept. 1, 2012, Taliban suicide bombers staged what appeared to be a carefully coordinated attack southwest of Kabul that killed at least a dozen Afghans and wounded 58 more just outside the same American military outpost where a similar attack one year ago wounded scores of American soldiers. The wounded included at least one woman, a child, and three officers of the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan national spy agency. Several American soldiers inside the base were also wounded.

One theory quickly emerged: The attack was meant as a reprise of the truck bombing of the same base, Combat Outpost Sayed Abad, that killed five Afghans and wounded 77 United States soldiers last September. The Haqqani Taliban network was blamed for the attack. Coalition Airstrike Kills Taliban Insurgents On Aug. 18, a coalition airstrike killed more than 20 Taliban insurgents after they had gathered to oversee a public execution in northeastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said. Some Afghan officials in Kunar Province, where the attack took place, put the death toll much higher, at 40 to 50. NATO said only that “at least two dozen” insurgents were killed after a joint Afghan-NATO ground operation observed a large gathering of armed men and called in an airstrike. After the attack, Afghan and NATO officials inspected the site and said no civilians were killed by the bombing, the coalition said. Two days earlier, seven American soldiers and three Afghan soldiers and an interpreter were killed after daybreak when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan, the American-led military command here said. A spokesman for the Taliban said the group had shot down the helicopter, but American officials said there was no indication yet that enemy fire was the cause. The helicopter crashed in a Talibancontrolled area in the northern part of Kandahar Province known as Shah Wali Kot an official at the Kandahar provincial governor’s office said. Maj. Martyn Crighton of the Army, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul, said it was not yet clear whether mechanical failure or Taliban fire was responsible. In Rising Toll, Signs of a Changing Conflict In August 2012, the United States military reached 2,000 dead in Afghanistan, based on an analysis by The New York Times of

Department of Defense records. The calculation by The Times includes deaths not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and other nations where American forces are directly involved in aiding the war. Nearly nine years passed before American forces reached their first 1,000 dead in the war. The second 1,000 came just 27 months later, a testament to the intensity of fighting prompted by President Obama’s decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010, a policy known as the surge. According to analysis by The Times, in the second wave of 1,000 soldiers who were killed, three out of four were white, nine out of 10 were enlisted service members and one out of two died in either Kandahar Province or Helmand Province in Taliban-dominated southern Afghanistan. Their average age was 26. The dead were disproportionately Marines. Though the Army over all has suffered more dead in the war, the Marine Corps, with fewer troops, has had a higher casualty rate: At the height of fighting in late 2010, two out of every 1,000 Marines in Afghanistan were dying, twice the rate of the Army. Marine units accounted for three of the five units hardest hit during the surge. Though Afghanistan is now considered the nation’s longest war, at nearly 11 years, the number of dead is less than half the total in the Iraq war, where more than 4,480 died in eight years. In 2011, more active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves, 278, than died in combat in Afghanistan, 247.