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As U.S. Troops Leave Afghanistan, Diplomats Are Left to Fill Uncertain Mission


Over the next year, as all U.S. combat troops left Iraq, military and embassy officials sought to work in “lock step” — not only with Iraqi officials but also to uniformly outline the American mission’s needs and challenges in Iraq to Washington, said retired Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who was the Pentagon’s chief spokesman in Baghdad in 2011.

He said much of the initial Iraqi reluctance to turn to the American embassy “had a lot to do with resources being brought to bear,” given that the Defense Department had been able to provide more staff, equipment, money and other resources than the State Department could in Iraq.

“They could just not leverage what we had started,” Mr. Buchanan said in an interview.

Mr. Buchanan later served as a deputy commander for all American troops in Afghanistan, from 2015 to 2016. He said government security forces there “are going to continue to need help for some time.”

Annie Pforzheimer, a retired career diplomat, was the deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Kabul the year after Mr. Buchanan had left. In the long run, she said, it would be better for Afghans to have their own government forces secure their country, albeit with international oversight.

But she also expressed some concern about security constraints on the embassy in Kabul that already prevent American diplomats from regularly leaving the compound and meeting with locals.

Security restrictions imposed by the State Department have been especially acute in Afghanistan, where a decade ago provincial reconstruction teams of American diplomats worked with local governments across the country to fight corruption, provide services like education and health care, bolster the economy and promote women and other vulnerable populations.

Those efforts continue to be run out of the embassy in Kabul, Ms. Pforzheimer said, but they now face dwindling money even as American officials work to make sure financial assistance to Afghans is not being misused.

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