Editor’s note: This is the third of a seven-part series examining conditions in Afghanistan in the last year of U.S. military operations there. The series will run every Wednesday and will examine each of the country’s regional commands to get a sense of the country, and the war, America is leaving behind. You can find the Series Introduction here and Part I here.
Northern Afghanistan, particularly the regional capital Mazar-i-Sharif in the province of Balkh, represents something of a success story. The region by and large benefited from the international intervention without experiencing the same level of economic distortion as areas that received more reconstruction funds and military attention due to higher levels of insurgent activity. Rather, Mazar’s success as an economic hub owes a great deal to an institution Westerners have been reluctant to embrace—the strongman governor.
The German-led coalition in Regional Command North includes 17 countries, making it the most diverse coalition present in any of the regional commands of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). All nine of the region’s provinces had formally begun the transition to Afghan security lead by the end of 2012; about 4,000 international troops remain in Regional Command North—roughly 40 percent German and roughly 30 percent American—complemented by nearly 15,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA). “We continue to assist the Afghans,” says Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell, lead public affairs officer for American troops in northern Afghanistan, but the Afghans are “really determined to defeat this insurgency on their own terms.”