Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Posts Tagged ‘Kabul

Afghanistan’s Insider War Against the U.S.

leave a comment »

My latest story and photo are up on TIME:

John Wendle / Combat Outpost Garda, Wardak Province

Saturday marked the 2,000th U.S. military death in the war in Afghanistan. And it is the way in which the American soldier was reportedly killed – by a presumptive Afghan ally – that makes it significant. These so-called green-on-blue attacks are rarely spectacular – often carried out suddenly, by rifle. Even so, these insider attacks are proving to be the perfect weapon against coalition forces since they accomplish many of the insurgents’ goals with little planning, effort or cost.

Increasingly, coalition troops feel they cannot trust the Afghan soldiers and police with whom they live and serve. The killings drive a wedge of mistrust deeper between foreign and Afghan forces and they also cause the American public to question why Washington is helping the Afghan government and military at all. And these doubts and questions are critical because, in order for the U.S. to declare any kind of victory after the 2014 withdrawal, it has to train and mentor a viable Afghan security force that will respect human rights and prevent a much-feared civil war or Taliban takeover.

The mistrust and tension was visible during a recent trip to Combat Outpost Garda, in northern Wardak Province. As a U.S. patrol wound its way back over barren, brown hills and through the sunny orchards of apples that make this valley famous among Afghans, word passed back through the soldiers that an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol would be heading out as they headed in. One soldier joked that he hoped the Afghans would not shoot the patrol as they came in.Some laughed. Soon after, an American lieutenant’s voice crackled through the leaves of the trees from the communications devices carried by all troops, telling the patrol to keep a sharp eye as they returned. Not such a joke, after all.

Read the whole story at Afghanistan’s Insider War Against the U.S.: A Matter of No Trust

Follow John on Twitter at @johnwendle


Written by johnwendle

October 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

Afghanistan’s Only Paralympian

leave a comment »

Despite having millions of people wounded and maimed by landmines and UXO, Afghanistan has sent only one competitor to the 2012 London Paralympics. Power lifter Mohammad Fahim Rahimi will compete tomorrow. Though he doesn’t expect to win, Fahim has great pride in representing Afghanistan.

     You can watch the short video the UK’s Channel 4 aired yesterday at From Afghan taxi-driver to Paralympian.

The weightlifter lost his right leg to a landmine – a continuing problem in this country – during the civil war. The loss depressed him, but, with the encouragement of friends, he pulled himself out of his depression by taking up weightlifting. He became so obsessed that he never missed a day throughout Taliban rule – partly because life was boring without something to do. He even carried his 40 lbs. bicycle up and down the mountainside he lived on, strapped to his back with only one good leg in the snow, just to get to the gym.

Today, the dedication has paid off. But even with his second trip to a Paralympics, his problems are not over. To compensate for a small government stipend (around $450 a year) he works as a minibus taxi driver, making around $20 a day. On these wages and benefits, he, his wife and their three young children live in a single room in a ramshackle house built on a mountainside overlooking Kabul.

He is afraid that as the US and NATO wind down their involvement in Afghanistan, the small stipend that helps them get through the winter will evaporate.

If you are interested in helping Fahim and his family, please contact me through this blog or send me a direct message on Twitter. Dozens of people who saw the report this week are donating money, which I will get to Fahim when he gets back.

To see more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter.

Written by johnwendle

September 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Civilian deaths down – assassinations on the rise

leave a comment »

An IED killed a district government chief and three bodyguards on Sunday in eastern Afghanistan. The assassination comes on the heels of a UN report released in the middle of last week showing that targeted killings of government officials has increased by 34% in the first six months of 2012 to 255, compared with 190 over the same period last year. Although there has been an increase in assassinations, the UN reported that civilian deaths have dropped by 15% year on year, to 3,099.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) released their Afghanistan Mid-Year Report 2012 – Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict(download) report last week.

For more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter

Written by johnwendle

August 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm

A New U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership: Should the Taliban Be Afraid?

leave a comment »

After many months of wrangling and negotiations between Washington and Kabul, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta initialed the draft of a strategic partnership agreement that promises American support for Afghanistan for 10 years following the planned 2014 withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. However, like many recent agreements between the two countries, observers agree that although the document is being widely heralded, it will have little real impact and will remain a tool in a political shadow play.

“Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall told TIME. “We believe this agreement supports that goal.” He added that, “Both President Barack Obama and [Afghan] President Hamid Karzai have expressed their desire to have an agreement ready to sign before the NATO summit in Chicago [which begins May 15].” Sundwall tells TIME that the document will undergo an interagency review, a consultation with Congress as appropriate and a final review by the president. “Once these internal processes are complete, we expect to be in a position to sign the agreement,” Sundwall says, though he could not comment on details of the agreement.

Because of the lack of details or teeth, observers say the draft has little substance. “It’s an ineffectual PR move. They’re trying to have it both ways — to have their cake and eat it too,” a foreign observer says. “There seems to be some great optimism that this will convince other countries to pony up the money and take on more of the financial burden from the U.S. [to support the Afghan government and military]. But other countries will not be keen to whip out their checkbooks when the U.S. doesn’t talk about exact financial commitments.”

A U.S. official tells TIME that the signing “locks in” the text for now, but “the final text is pending the internal review processes of both countries.” The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the deal “will provide the general framework governing our bilateral relationship with the government and people of Afghanistan going forward.” He added that, “once agreed, specifics that go beyond the scope of the framework will need to be discussed and addressed in future memorandum of understanding, agreements or other arrangements as appropriate.”

Even with no specifics, Afghan National Security Adviser Spanta announced that, “The document finalized [on Sunday] provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world and is a document for the development of the region.” Western diplomats have speculated that a more detailed security agreement would possibly come sometime next year, once European nations make it clear how much they can give to fund Afghan national security forces.

Still, the very presence of a draft agreement is important to the goals of both the U.S. and Afghan governments. The U.S. needs to show the American people it is working on an exit strategy while Kabul needs to reassure international donors there is a future in Afghanistan and the Afghan people that they will not be left to fend for themselves against the Taliban’s expected attempt to take over after the 2014 pull out. The agreement could also be seen as a possible application of pressure against the Taliban, since many have speculated that they will wait for a U.S. withdrawal before staging a power-grab.

Also, it is remarkable that any sort of agreement has been reached at all after a year when relations between the two countries have been strained by U.S. troops mugging with the body parts of suicide bombers, urinating on the corpses of dead insurgents, burning Korans and massacring civilians coupled with Afghan troops killing their foreign mentors. Even in light of these hurdles, the draft comes on the heels of further movement in moving toward a post-U.S. Afghanistan, including memoranda of understanding for the handover of control of night raids to Afghan forces and a detention facility.

Read more about the handover of night raids at Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: What the End of U.S. Night Raids Means for Afghanistan about the Koran burning riots at The Koran-Burning Riots: Can U.S. and Afghan Troops Work Together? and the massacre in Panjwai, Kandahar at Timing and Location of an Afghan Massacre Threatens U.S. Strategy

Yet, even this momentum is limited. Because the U.S. Congress must vote on yearly budgets, there is no way for lump sums of cash to be allotted in advance to the Afghan government to run its military and ministries — even within the framework of this strategic partnership agreement. Though Karzai called for just that last week — asking the U.S. to make a written commitment to pay a minimum of $2 billion to support the Afghan military. A $2.7 billion a year price tag has also been discussed. It is round figures like these that Western leaders will try to hash out at the Chicago NATO summit. It is estimated that it will cost about $4 billion a year to support the 352,000 strong national army and national police — of which the Afghan government will contribute around $500 million a year.

And while these figures are orders of magnitude smaller than the $110 billion to $120 billion the Congressional Research Service says the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan every year since the troop surge began in 2010, no specific amounts have been set by Sunday’s draft signing — which makes many observers wonder at the purpose of such an announcement. “My sense is that it will soon become clear where the U.S. stands and that this is quite a noncommittal agreement,” says long-time Afghanistan observer and expert Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. “This agreement won’t convince the Taliban or anyone else that there’s going to be solid and sustained U.S. support, or clarify what that support will be. It is quite clear that the U.S. and other countries are quite conflicted and this agreement does nothing to clarify what their stance is.”

The foreign observer amplified this analysis, saying, “The agreement coming through doesn’t surprise me. The Bagram [detention facility] and night raids memoranda of understanding were where Karzai got almost everything he wanted and the U.S. gave and gave. This is the agreement where the U.S. gave nothing, in spite of Karzai’s statements a few weeks ago about how much he wanted specific figures — which it sounds like he got none of.” The source added that, “In terms of what this agreement says about the U.S.’s commitment to continuing financial support, it doesn’t give us any information. It leaves the U.S. free to provide a lot of support, or very little, as it sees fit, year-by-year. Basically, it’s an agreement to be friends. And without any other details, does it send a clear message to Pakistan and Iran? Does it send a clear message to the Taliban? Does it send a clear message to the U.S.’s partner nations? I don’t think so. And without these details there’s no difference in the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan today than there was yesterday.”

Read more about past negotiations at A U.S. Peace with the Taliban? Don’t Hold Your Breath

This story originally appeared in TIME at A New U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership: Should the Taliban Be Afraid?

Afghans use Facebook to Protest Kandahar Massacre

leave a comment »

By John Wendle / Kabul

Sunday, Apr. 01, 2012

The image is striking and heartbreaking. It captures a young teenage boy at the height of his grief. A tear streaks his cheek, his mouth drawn into a grimace and his eyes are swollen from crying. “Thank you USA And World For Killing My Complete Fmily and Helping My Tears to Shed [sic],” is the message written across the image in bright yellow letters. The internet meme of Afghan youth mourning the loss of family and neighbors after 17 Afghan civilians were murdered in Panjwai district on March 11 — allegedly by U.S. Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales — spread rapidly on social media networks among Afghans in and out of the country. It encapsulated the frustration of a generation that has grown up during the 10 year war that is finding its voice — albeit, on the internet.

“For me, as an Afghan, I was really angry. I could have done anything if I had seen an American soldier that day. But I knew how to use Facebook and I did. People were posting angry comments about what had happened, about the children being killed and about the Koran burnings,” an Afghan graphic designer from Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells TIME. “This is the new way. This is the peaceful way. Not just going out and killing each other like happened during the Koran protests. Online social media can be used the same way here as it was during the Arab Spring. I think Afghanistan is becoming something like that. People are commenting on posts by friends and acquaintances. It’s connecting people,” the graphic designer says.

(MORE: Afghans: U.S. Paid $50K Per Massacre Death)

The killings and the meme generated a level of emotional connection and angry reaction — on Facebook in particular — that far surpassed anything seen by this correspondent in two and a half years in Afghanistan. Unlike the Koran burnings — which sparked violent street protests across the country that left around 30 dead — protests over the killings in Panjwai district were almost solely on the Internet, involving few public demonstrations.

“The killings in Panjwai were no different from other mass civilian killings — like with misguided airstrikes,” says an Afghan in Kandahar who spoke on condition of anonymity. The conventional perception among the majority of Afghan civilians is that NATO routinely kills civilians — either intentionally or accidentally — and so the deaths in Kandahar were nothing out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the burning of the Koran was the defamation of a sacred book held in high esteem in Afghanistan. Swept up by religious fervor or the mob, protests over the Koran burning were carried out by mostly poor and illiterate people. The online reaction to the Kandahar massacre however points to a interesting divide: social media is the protest sites of choice for a relatively affluent, urban segment of society that has access to the Internet and information.

“There is a big divide in education and between the literate and the illiterate. Generally there’s a large divide in terms of information flow. You can see this if you look at what kind of stuff people discuss and are interested in,” says Jes Kaliebe Petersen, the director of business development at Paywast, a mobile phone-based social networking service that is Afghanistan’s largest social network. “Literacy makes it much easier for people to access facts and get balanced information. That’s partially why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.”

(PHOTOS: The Afghan Massacre)

Right now, Petersen says only 3% to 4% of people have Internet in Afghanistan, while 50% have mobile phones. The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology claims that Internet penetration grew from 0.25% in 2005 to 10% in 2009 while the usage of mobile phones grew from 3% to 16% over the same period. Most likely, Paywast’s numbers are closer to the truth. The U.S. government estimates a current population of around 30.4 million Afghans.

Petersen says people use Paywast in the same way they use Facebook — voicing thoughts and opinions. “When something like this happens they talk about it in the same way they talk about things on Facebook,” Petersen says. But, if Facebook is any indication, anger ran higher about the Kandahar massacre among urban, educated Afghans — the very segment of the population it seems would be most supportive of NATO — since many are employed by the government or non-governmental organizations or by NATO itself.

Another meme drew a similar deluge of angry comments on Facebook. This one showed the same youth next to an image of President Barack Obama over images of children killed in Panjwai. Written in English, the text read, “You! Killed Usama, removed Mulla Omar from black list, started negotiation with Taliban and handed over Bagram jail… Tell me WHAT WAS MY SIN??? Your whole United States can’t compensate my complete family loss… Thanks to your civilization, democracy and Human Rights for gifting me such…” The image garnered 885 likes, 510 shares and 340 comments with the most recent comment on Monday, two weeks after the killings.

Some of the comments just showed straight anger and rage. One Afghan wrote, “Shame on you, America. Soon you will be destroyed, God willing.” Another wrote, “I wonder if the F—— Americans are satisfied and happy with their army? God willing they will all burn in Hell!” Other comments were less incendiary – though no less angry. Some, though, called for action. “We have to do something, only talking aint gonna change anything,” wrote one. Another wrote, “This is the time to unite,” adding that Afghans should get together to have the issue brought before the UN and the international community. “So please unite. I am afraid we will lose everything. I swear, you cry in Kandahar and I cry in London.” The posts are mostly in English or in Dari or Pashto written in English script.

(MORE: Ten Is Enough)

But the Afghan graphic designer says that while the growth of Internet usage is mostly a good thing, he also sees some drawbacks. “It’s a good thing, but there could be problems as well. It can be good for public awareness, but if I want to spread propaganda, most people won’t think about whether it is true or not. If people use it for public awareness and to fight for their rights, then it will be a good thing, but if it is used for propaganda, it will be bad for society.”

Regardless, as the 2014 date for the withdrawal of foreign troops looms along with possible Taliban rule, the Afghans TIME spoke with fear that the freedom of expression and the life they have created online may be constrained — as it is in China and Iran — or disappear altogether. “I think the Internet itself will remain as important as it is now, but it won’t be as easy to find Internet connections. It will be controlled. In Iran, they have fast Internet connections, but people are not allowed to access too many outside websites,” says the graphic designer.

An Afghan journalist, who also asked not to be named, is worried about the decline of social media. “If the Taliban come to power in 2014, they will not come in like they did ten years ago. They will come back and be a bit more moderate in their government. But for social media and the press, we are so worried because the Taliban, they have such radical thinking, they don’t believe in press freedom, in the media.”

But an Iranian media professional working in Kabul feels that, like life, the Internet will find a way. “People’s ambition will not end, but their access to it might. I’m sure that Afghans will find a way to get around it. It’s one of the only ways to state what you feel, to feel that you exist,” she says. The sentiment is echoed by Petersen, who tells TIME, “Afghans are looking at what is going on everywhere in the world, 3G, Smartphones, etc, a lot of cool stuff; and if you take that away from people, its not going to be taken lightly. People would get very, very upset if you tried to take these things away from them.”

But the graphic designer has a gloomier, and possibly more realistic outlook. “I believe if the Taliban comes back then it’ll be like Iran. It will be an Islamic, Talib Internet.”

This article originally appeared in TIME at,8599,2110622,00.html.

Written by johnwendle

April 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Timing and Location of an Afghan Massacre Threatens U.S. Strategy

leave a comment »

By John Wendle / Kabul

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

The Panjwai massacre may not affect the U.S. schedule for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it has dealt a major blow to the Obama Administration’s plan to slowly shift the military burden there from conventional units to Special Forces who rely on cooperation from the civilian population. And the setback occurred in an area that had become a key focus of the counterinsurgency effort.

“The relations between the U.S. forces and the Afghan people have been greatly affected by the massacre,” the head of the quasi-governmental Panjwai District Development Assembly, Hajji Niak Mohammad, tells TIME. “It has caused a big gap to form between the U.S. military and the Afghans. [The Americans] had come to fight against the insurgency and to bring peace and stability. People did not expect such a wild action.”

(MORE: Afghans Assess U.S. Presence After Massacre, Koran Burning)

No matter how many times President Obama apologizes for the mass killing of civilians by an American soldier early Sunday morning, the damage has already been done. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, visiting Camp Leatherneck in the desert in southern Helmand province while on a previously scheduled visit to Afghanistan, told Marines Wednesday that “Each of these incidents is deeply troubling” and that “We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve.” But, to the villagers in Panjwai district, in war-wracked Kandahar province, apologies are beside the point — “individual incidents” are defining how Afghans see the U.S. presence, and fueling demands for it to end.

“At the beginning, when [the Americans] first came to Afghanistan, people were really optimistic,” says Hajji Mohammad. “People believed in them. People thought they had come to rebuild Afghanistan, to bring peace and stability, to contribute people and economic support. But, slowly, slowly this belief has faded and been destroyed. The people don’t trust the U.S. military anymore.”

That erosion of trust underscores the flaw at the very heart of U.S. policy in in Afghanistan, regardless of Panetta telling the Marines at Camp Leatherneck that “our strategy is working”. Effective counterinsurgency depends on winning the support of the civilian population, but that becomes impossible when the locals lose trust and respect — not only because of egregious crimes like the murder of 16 civilians, but also through the small offenses and disappointments meted out daily by a poorly-informed military force from an alien culture that only spends six months to a year in an area before rotating home.

(MORE: Afghan Counterinsurgency: When Everything Is Personal)

The Panjwai murders happened in villages adjacent to a U.S. Special Forces compound, where the accused perpetrator was part of a static security detail for the forces expected to take on more of the responsibility for waging the war. Special Forces are deemed better able to build strong relationships with villagers through their Village Stabilization Operations (VSOs) and their setting up and training of Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces.

Says Seth Jones, a Rand Corporation political analyst and sometime-adviser to the U.S. Special Operations Command, “U.S. and Afghan Special Operations Forces have played a growing role in pushing into rural parts of Kandahar (and other provinces) to help local communities improve their security, governance (mostly informal governance through jirgas) and development. Unlike efforts to train Afghan National Security Forces and improve the formal justice system, Village Stability Operations are inherently bottom-up programs.”

Jones explains that Panjwai, along with several other districts outside of Kandahar City such as Shah Wali Kot, Maiwand, and Khakrez, have become a focus of U.S. and Afghan counterinsurgency efforts because of their strategic importance. “Over the past several years, Panjwai has not been pacified by either the Taliban or Afghan and NATO forces, but has repeatedly changed hands following intense and extremely violent fighting.”

In order to tip the balance, Special Forces groups called Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) units began setting up VSOs and ALP units and carrying out night raids to round up Taliban suspects. The massacre poses a challenge to their work. The impact of the Panjwai killings “could be devastating or could be minimal and quickly resolved through skillful diplomacy on the part of the team — it really depends on if these were villages which were cooperating with the ODA or if they were not,” says a foreign observer with extensive counterinsurgency experience in Afghanistan, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If this is a worst-case scenario and the villages in question were active VSO villages with a good level of cooperation, [and if] those killed were truly indiscriminately targeted and they were respected people in the villages, then I think the ODAs will have a hard time recovering from this.”

Adds Adrian Melendez, a development worker who spent nine months working on agricultural stabilization projects in Marjah district in Helmand, the local culture is not conducive to easily resolving the issue. “For the Pashtuns, forgiveness is not a value — on the contrary, revenge is valued, and for hard Pashtuns it is an obligation,” he says. “So I’m guessing that the people affected will try to get revenge as an act of justice.”

(MORE: Afghan Massacre: Army Docs Say Brain Injury Could Have Sparked Attack)

Indeed, justice has been the rallying cry for many Afghans — both in Panjwai and across the country and the internet where images of the murdered children have proliferated and sparked angry and impassioned statements by young, urban Afghans who are more typically apolitical or supportive of the Western military mission — even as General John Allen, commander of all NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has said the gunman will be punished according to the law. “They should bring the murderer, or murderers, to justice,” says Hajji Mohammad. “People should see with their own eyes that the perpetrators are punished — in Afghanistan, according to Afghan law. This is the only way to deal with the anger of the Afghans, to bring calmness to their anger.” But U.S. soldiers are exempt from Afghan law and it is most likely the killer will be tried back on home soil, under U.S. law — despite calls from the Afghan parliament for the accused to be tried in public in Afghanistan.

Justice being seen to be done is the key to restoring trust in Panjwai, warns Jones: “A lot will depend on how swiftly and transparently the Americans move on punishing the soldier responsible, as well as local sentiments toward the Taliban in the area.”

Regardless of how deftly — or otherwise — U.S. forces deal with the challenges raised by the massacre, they will face an escalation of hostilities in the coming weeks and months, as spring heralds a new fighting season. “I anticipate that there will be a big, big fight not only in Panjwai, but in most parts of Afghanistan in the spring and summer when the weather becomes warmer,” warns Hajji Mohammad. “These killings could increase anti-Americanism and more people will join the Taliban and other radical groups. On the other hand, the Taliban have already sworn they will double their attacks against the U.S. military and they will get revenge for this massacre. People are also sad and angry, so I anticipate that there will be more attacks against the US military and their allies in Panjwai.” One sign of what to expect will come within days, when many urban Afghans gather at mosques for Friday prayers for the first time since the massacre — many local and foreign observers are bracing for trouble.

This story originally appeared at,8599,2109044,00.html

Written by johnwendle

April 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Can the U.S. and NATO Win in Afghanistan Without Advisers in the Ministries?

leave a comment »

By John Wendle / Kabul

(A shorter version of this story can be found at at Advisers in Afghanistan Chafe at Security Restrictions on Their Work. This longer version contains all of the statistics and quotes.)

Amid the normal confusion on the grounds of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul two changes are immediately apparent: conspicuously absent are the usual contingent of foreign soldiers and police advisers rolling to meetings in armored SUVs, freshly pressed shirts, body armor, crew cuts and wraparound shades; today they seem to have been replaced with Afghan police armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles dotting the compound, standing a silent watch among the chaotic hustle of the ministry.

Yet, the continued absence of foreign advisers is more telling than the presence of new security a week and a half after two high-ranking U.S. officers were shot and killed at a secured office at the Ministry of Interior and riots swept the country over the burning of Korans and other religious materials at the American-run Bagram Airbase. Just hours after the killings of the officers, NATO pulled all of its military and civilian advisers out of the Afghan government’s ministries – and today they are still gone. The withdrawal sparked a firestorm on U.S. opinion pages, in congress and on the presidential campaign trail, with many asking how the U.S. will be able to withdraw from Afghanistan if advisers cannot work to improve the level of Afghan government and delivery of services. [Read more about the civilian surge here Whatever Happened to the Civilian Surge in Afghanistan? and here The Limits of the Surge: Petraeus’ Legacy in Afghanistan.] 

Many of the advisers working here in Kabul do not agree with the unilateral decision by General John Allen, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, to withdraw them from their offices, even temporarily – as NATO has characterized the move. “Pulling all advisers from the ministries, as a blanket reaction to an incident at the Interior Ministry was an extreme reaction, giving the message that we don’t trust anyone,” says Santwana Dasgupta, an American support manager at the Ministry of Higher Education. “During these times, I believe it is even more important for the international community to reach out to the Afghans they know, express their dismay at the Koran burnings and express [their regrets], and not to hide in fear,” Dasgupta tells TIME. “I think it is a shame that internationals are asked to run and hide.” [Read more here: As Afghan Riots Subside, Anger over Koran Burning Simmers and here The Koran-Burning Riots: Can U.S. and Afghan Troops Work Together?]

“My beef is not that we were under lockdown (this has happened before for a variety of reasons), but more about the public way it was mandated that no Americans should visit any ministries – it smacked of tit-for-tat – and given the cordial relationships we at the Higher Education Project enjoy with the ministry and universities, this message was disappointing,” Dasgupta tells TIME, though she concedes that she would rather stay home than risk her Afghan colleagues getting injured if she were targeted.

But not all advisers were withdrawn – some of those not working in U.S. State Department or NATO programs have remained on. “We were never sent home. And, actually, I feel safer at my office than I do in my house because the security is quite good at the ministry. I haven’t received any updated security restrictions from my embassy,” says one European adviser who asked to remain anonymous, because he, like all of the foreign advisers interviewed for this story, did not have permission to speak to TIME. This adviser, who has only been here for a little over a month says that right now, “there’s no friction between the Afghan and foreign staff after the Koran burnings. They are all educated and know us and our customs, so they understood that it was a mistake. Also, I don’t advise the military, I work in development, so there is not as much of a threat.”

But, for right now, it looks as though many foreign advisers – particularly military advisers – will continue to work remotely from their bedrooms, guesthouses, dormitories and barracks as hundreds of them remain on lockdown fearing attack. “Due to force protection concerns, as we work through the current situation, we have not been identifying what ministries that have or have not had people return physically to their job sites. Because of that we do not have any advisers that are available right now [to talk],” said NATO spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, Jr., when asked if TIME could speak with any of the military advisers. “Once the investigation is complete and security procedures have been reviewed and General Allen has made the decision for all to return, then I think they might be available.”

As NATO has struggled militarily and violence has risen in recent years, it has placed increasing emphasis on the training mission here and the raising of a capable Afghan army and police. If viable government and security institutions can be formed, the reasoning goes, then the U.S. and NATO can withdraw and leave the Afghans to their own problems, while still being able declare a kind of victory – or at least say that they did their best. The implication is that if advisers are not advising, then why is the U.S. still in Afghanistan? [Read more here Afghanistan After Petraeus: From Defeat to ‘Transition’ and here Are Afghan Security Forces Ready to Take Over? and here Fighting the Taliban: Afghan Army’s Attrition Crisis.]

But a June 2011 report for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee entitled “Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan,” clearly shows the importance the Obama administration has placed on building the capacity of the Afghan government – though it paints the logic in a more positive light. “The administration’s fiscal year 2012 request for Afghanistan includes roughly $3.2 billion in foreign aid. This funding level reflects the pivotal role the State Department and USAID are expected to play to help consolidate our military gains and ensure a successful transition. It gives our Embassy and USAID Mission in Kabul the necessary resources to build basic Afghan capacity,” the report reads, adding that this request is a 22 percent decrease from fiscal year 2010-enacted levels.

But, after noting this massive spending cut and claiming that State and USAID will play a “pivotal role,” the report makes the stark point that, eventually, foreign advisers will leave permanently, and with so much handholding going on right now, the Afghan ministries may not be ready to stand on their own – though this may just be a veiled excuse to cut funding. “The U.S. strategy is focused on building the capacity of Afghan institutions to deliver basic services. The State Department and USAID are currently spending approximately $1.25 billion on such efforts. But our overreliance on international technical advisors to build Afghan capacity may undermine these efforts. Our aid projects need to focus more on sustainability so that Afghans can absorb our programs when donor funds recede.”

When the Soviets withdrew in defeat from Afghanistan, the U.S. withdrew covert and overt funding – and this helped lead to a civil war whose chaos led to the rise of the Taliban. The Foreign Relations Committee report issues a stark and sobering warning on the planned withdrawal of advisers, saying, “As we draw down our troops in Afghanistan, our civilians will have to absorb missions currently performed by the military. The State Department and USAID will need adequate resources to ensure a smooth transition and avoid repeating the mistakes we made in Iraq. Transition planning should find the right balance between avoiding a sudden dropoff in aid, which could trigger a major economic recession, and a long-term phaseout from current levels of donor spending.” [The report can be downloaded here Evaluating U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan.]

But, the real risk remains that if the advisers are kept out of the ministries – either now, because of security, or in the future, because of funding – then more than ten years of work at building the abilities of the Afghan bureaucracy stand in jeopardy. “I understand why the military advisers were pulled as they are a definite target, but where this all went wrong was pulling out the civilian advisers,” says Alison Rhind, the senior adviser to the minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock – a key ministry in a mostly rural country. “I don’t think it was right to pull the civilian advisors out of the ministries for two reasons: first, it encourages similar attacks when Taliban etc. see they can easily disrupt the government by attacking the international staff; and second, the disruption caused to our work by not being on site was huge. We cannot be active advisors and capacity builders of the Afghan government from a distance,” Rhind tells TIME, echoing a sentiment shared by many other long-term advisers in country. “We must be able to interact with our national colleagues and should not appear to be more precious than them.”