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Dexter Filkins: Afghanistan's 'Make Or Break' Time

Lance Cpl. Chris Garcia and other members of Golf Company cross an irrigation ditch as the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment moves into Helmand province in July during a major offensive against the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.
David Gilkey
/
NPR
Lance Cpl. Chris Garcia and other members of Golf Company cross an irrigation ditch as the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment moves into Helmand province in July during a major offensive against the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

Dexter Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has just returned to the United States from Afghanistan, where he spent the past several months reporting on the troop surge and the challenges the U.S. faces in trying to drive the Taliban out of the country.

Filkins says that he's growing increasingly "less hopeful" that the U.S. government can leave the country with a stable government because the Afghan government is in itself "a rotten shell."

"The Afghan government is corrupt from top to bottom," he says. "At the very top, you have the people around President Karzai, his brothers, who are allegedly ... involved in the drug trade in that country, which of course is fueling the Taliban. And all the way down at the bottom, with the police on the streets who collect bribes. To become a police chief in a province is said to cost $50,000 or $100,000. You can make that back, of course, when you become the police chief. And so the picture that emerges from that -- and the troubling questions that raises -- are 'What are the Americans fighting for and who are they defending? And assuming that the various allegations of corruption are true, or that most of them are true, can these problems be fixed?' And those are tall orders."

The planned withdrawal, starting in July 2011, would take place after the Afghan troop level is strong enough to target the Taliban-led insurgency. Filkins says that it's difficult to predict what will happen if, and when, the American troops pull out.

"I think what's hanging over all of this is the consequences of failure," he says. "They're pretty bad. If you remember, when the American war here started in 2001, it was because Afghanistan had imploded into a terrible civil war. It was a failed state, the Taliban took over, basically, and gave sanctuary to al-Qaida. You have to ask yourself the question, 'If the Americans pull out, what will prevent that from happening again?' "

Filkins emphasizes that the next few months will determine the future of Afghanistan.

"I don't think this is going to go on forever. It may, but this is make or break time in Afghanistan. This is it. The next 12 months to 24 months is really going to decide whether this is going to succeed or whether it's not."

Filkins joined the Times in 2000. He covered the war in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2002 and reported on the Iraq war from 2003 to 2006. He recently returned to Afghanistan again. Filkins details his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq in his book, The Forever War.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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