Aid and development money is drying up. I listened to one Afghan government farm worker in insecure Zabul Province insist a U.S. military development team needed to build a fence around a section of a U.S.-financed Afghan demonstration farm.
The U.S. commander patiently told the farmer he should ask his provincial agriculture minister to do it. "We don't do projects anymore," the commander repeatedly said. The farmer, who sported a bright gold wristwatch that signifies inordinate wealth (and sometimes indicates Taliban ties), retorted the ministry was "weak," so the American "friends" needed to do it.
Many Afghans tell me they are very pessimistic about post-2014 security. One Afghan who has translated for U.S. forces in Khost Province for nine years says: "The Afghan situation right now is kind of bad. If the American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, I don't think the Afghan army is strong enough to defend everybody."
He told me he hoped coalition forces would keep training the Afghan security forces. "Right now if the coalition forces would leave, it's going to be so hard for the Afghan people."
Like many of his colleagues, the educated interpreter, whose father was an Afghan National Police general, is applying for a special U.S. immigration visa.
Other Afghans are getting angry. One U.S. commander in southern Afghanistan told me about his Afghan counterpart flaring up when he learned American support was being quickly scaled back. It's a dictum that "retrograde under contact" (withdrawal under pressure) is among the most difficult of military operations. At some point when troop levels have dropped, all a force can do is protect itself.
As U.S. forces withdraw after well over a decade of war, the insurgents have responded in various ways. IEDs continue to be the weapon of choice. Media-magnet complex attacks, such as the spectacular attacks on Kabul and Camp Bastion when Prince Harry was stationed there, broadcast the insurgency is still thriving.
In some formerly insecure provinces such as Khost, insurgent attacks have diminished. I asked Col. Sullivan about the contention that attacks dropped because casualty-cautious U.S. commanders ordered fewer combat patrols.
Sullivan challenged the idea that U.S. soldiers are not "out there," saying soldiers constantly travel the roads on retrograde convoys.
"We're not finding the mother lodes of caches (insurgent military supplies) when we go out," he says. "We're not getting a fight."
Then I asked about the assessment that Afghan insurgents are just husbanding their forces while the U.S. withdraws. "Husbanding of forces," Sullivan quickly agrees. "I might buy that."