Editor’s note: This is the second 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. The series introduction can be found here.
Historically a crossroads of commerce and culture linking Persia and Central Asia, the ethnically mixed western region of Afghanistan has more recently been notable for the stability and wealth of its most important province, Herat, and its capital city of the same name. The province of Herat, which borders Iran and Tajikistan, owes much of its prosperity to customs revenue, which in turn is one of the two main domestic sources of revenue for the central government in Kabul. Herat’s growth and integration with the rest of Afghanistan, however, are threatened by instability and poor infrastructure in the surrounding provinces.
Since 2005, Italy has served as the lead nation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Regional Command West, which includes Herat and the surrounding provinces of Ghor, Badghis and Farah. There are currently about 5,000 ISAF troops in the region, from a peak of about 8,000 in late 2011, and under the draft U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement currently pending signature, the military base south of the city of Herat would be one of nine across the country the U.S. would retain access to after 2014.