Kabul fortification signals long U.S. stay in Afghanistan

After 16 years of U.S. presence in Kabul, the new project is an acknowledgment that even the city’s central districts have become too difficult to defend from Taliban bombings.

KABUL, Afghanistan —

Soon, U.S. Embassy employees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chinook helicopter ride to cross the street to a military base less than 100 yards outside the present Green Zone security district.

Instead, the boundaries of the Green Zone will be redrawn to include that base, known as the Kabul City Compound, formerly the headquarters for U.S. Special Operations forces in the capital. The zone is separated from the rest of the city by a network of police, military and private security checkpoints.

The expansion is part of a huge public-works project that in the next two years will reshape the center of this city of 5 million to bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and U.S. military headquarters within the protected area.

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After 16 years of U.S. presence in Kabul, it is an acknowledgment that even the city’s central districts have become too difficult to defend from Taliban bombings.

The capital project is also clearly taking place to protect another long-term U.S. investment: Along with an increase in troops to a reported 15,000, from around 11,000 at the moment, the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan is likely to keep the military in place well into the 2020s, even by the most conservative estimates.

No one wants to say when any final pullout will take place because the emphasis now is on a conditions-based withdrawal, presumably meaning after the Afghan government can handle the war alone. But President Donald Trump has kept secret the details of those conditions, and how they are defined.

“Until he says what the conditions are, all that means is we’ll be there as long as we want, for whatever reason we want,” said Barnett Rubin, a longtime Afghanistan expert who advised the Obama administration. “And they don’t have to lie to do that because the conditions will never be good enough to say we’re absolutely not needed.”

In practical terms, it means the U.S. military mission will continue for many more years, despite its unpopularity with the American public. Many military strategists, in the United States and Afghanistan, have penciled in plans well into the ’20s, and certainly…

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