A front page piece in today’s Washington Post by Pam Constable entitled “U.S. Troops Face a Tangle Of Goals in Afghanistan” does a good job of encapsulating the problems NATO faces in that conflict.

Army commanders in Logar described a daunting list of objectives for the operations they are setting up in two rural provinces south of Kabul, the capital: bring security, reduce support for Taliban insurgents, improve Afghan police and army forces, establish good governance, boost the economy and improve infrastructure such as water and roads.

On all fronts, military leaders here readily acknowledged they have an extremely difficult task. The most obvious dilemma they face is how to protect themselves and hunt down insurgents without further alienating the inhabitants of this quiet but strategically located agricultural province.

The piece is largely anecdotal but sheds a lot of light on the difficulties.  The Afghan people both hate the presence of foreign troops and fear the resurgence of the Taliban that would undoubtedly occur if NATO left now.

This, seven plus years into the mission, is especially depressing:

“The hardest nut for us to crack is to build faith in the institution of the police,” said Haight, the regional commander. During home searches for weapons or insurgents, he said, Afghan police often “shake down the house like criminals.” In terms of training and morale, he said, the police are about five years behind the army. “We have to show them what right behavior is, to secure the people instead of being corrupt and victimizing them,” he said.

It’s not unreasonable to wonder why, if the culture hasn’t been amenable to change after years of intensive efforts, why it ever will.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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