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Five Years Afghanistan Report
A U.S. Army soldier with 102nd Infantry Regiment, Connecticut National Guard hands crayons to an Afghan boy during the humanitarian aid portion of a medical and veterinarian civic action program in Charkh, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2006. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Joey L. SuggsAs we reach the five-year anniversary of the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, it is natural to cast an eye on Afghanistan. While attention generally focuses on Iraq, Afghanistan remains one of the central fronts in the War on Terror. After all, only five years ago Afghanistan was a lawless region that provided a training ground and sanctuary for Osama bin Laden’s deadly al-Qaeda network.

In today’s age, there is often a tendency to measure progress against an unrealizable ideal—to expect development to occur in a vacuum that does not factor in preexisting conditions. It is hard to comprehend how destitute Afghanistan was in 2001—and how much progress has been made since. Afghanistan was one of the poorest nations in the world with little infrastructure; it was ruled by a vicious totalitarian regime; drought had decimated agricultural mainstays; the economy was a shambles; and decades of war had left it a broken, lawless nation.

And yet now, despite ongoing violence in some provinces, there is a vast array of promising indicators across a broad spectrum—from security to education to health care. Afghanistan is now a fragile democracy, and a strong ally in the War on Terror. The population is free and is taking advantage of the increasing political and economic opportunities. And the government continues to extend the arm of peace and order to long-neglected regions of the country.

This is not to downplay the very real threats that still face Afghanistan. It is merely to say that any candid discussion of the mission should include the good as well as the bad. Five years on, there is a multitude of good news—testament to the hard work and dedication of our armed forces, the international community, and, most important, the Afghan people themselves.
Democratic Reforms
President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, waves goodbye to Afghan National Army, village elders and local government officials from Kunar province, Afghanistan on May 18, 2006.  U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Zuk   The Taliban ruled by force and imposed a radical interpretation of Islam on the entire population. There were no freedoms to speak of, particularly for women. There were numerous bans on leisure activities, such as television, various games and sports, even kite-flying. There was only one state-sanctioned radio station. Criminal punishments for those who ran afoul of the regime included amputations, stonings, and public executions.
  • The Afghanistan constitution, signed into law in 2004, includes provisions to protect individual rights, particularly for women.

  • In the 2004 presidential election, more than 8 million Afghans voted, and 41 percent were women. In the 2005 parliamentary election, more than 50 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

  • Women hold 68 of 188 seats in the lower house of parliament.

  • Approximately 50,000 domestic election observers were trained for the 2005 parliamentary election.

  • At least 40 judicial centers have been built or rehabilitated, and almost 600 judges trained.

  • There are now 32 independent radio stations that reach 60 percent of the population.

  • At least 4.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan.
It is a well-known fact that the Taliban did not believe in education for women. But the Taliban’s neglect of Afghanistan’s people was not limited to women: By the end of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan had a 70 percent illiteracy rate, and 80 percent of schools had been damaged or destroyed. In 2002, only 32 percent of school-age children were enrolled, and 97 percent of girls did not attend.  
A teacher conducts class outdoors at a local school in the Pech Valley, Afghanistan on May 2, 2006. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Joshua Balog
  • At least 5 million students are enrolled, a 500 percent increase since 2001. Of these, 40 percent are women and girls.

  • More than 50,000 teachers have been trained. At least 65,000 teachers regularly listen to a radio teaching program that airs daily.

  • More than 500 schools, which serve 400,000 students, have been built. All are repaired with local materials and expertise—and are earthquake-resistant.

  • The United States helped create an Afghanistan Primary Education Program to make up for lost schooling years under the Taliban. At its peak, 170,000 students attended daily, 58 percent of whom were women.

  • The United States has helped print more than 48 million textbooks and distribute more than 42 million textbooks.
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