With Afghanistan reeling from three decades of conflict even before the 2001 military intervention, international organisations including the United Nations and the World Bank quickly recognised the need to invest in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Development spending in Afghanistan increased from $1bn in 2002 to over $5bn by 2009.
Efforts to reduce Afghanistan’s poppy crops (which UK Prime Minister Tony Blair had said was the source of 90% of the heroin sold in Britain in 2001) were less successful. The fertile southern province of Helmand now produces 49% of the country’s opium, up from 40% in 2006, despite British-led counter-narcotics efforts.
ISAF has invested heavily in building up Afghanistan’s security forces. The Afghan National Army, trained by ISAF troops, was founded by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2002 with just 1,500 soldiers and is now 200,000-strong. These are the soldiers that ISAF troops will hand over to later this year. Both the Afghan National Army and the police have received plaudits for their expertise and equipment, although desertion rates are high and training lasts only 3 months. These forces are more robust than those the Taliban first overpowered as they swept to power in 1996.