NATO troops are due to hand over responsibility for preventing the Taliban's advance in Afghanistan to local police and soldiers after 2014. Observers fear the country could descend into civil war.
"I am still optimistic," says ISAF spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson. He says the recruitment and training of Afghan troops is coming along well and asserts that the goal to train 157,000 police officers and 195,000 soldiers has almost been achieved.
He also points out that half of the country's population lives in areas that are already under Afghan control. "In the past weeks and months, the forces have proven that they are in a position to deal with a broad range of tasks," he says, adding that he believes they will be ready by 2014 to take over responsibility for the whole country.
However, it is difficult to find an independent observer who shares this view. Many warn that the situation is increasingly difficult to control. "The Taliban's influence has grown over the past four or five years," says Candace Rondeaux from International Crisis Group, pointing out that if this was not the case NATO might be prepared to stay longer.
Many regard the mission as a failed one, saying that now it is a matter of getting troops and equipment out without further losses.
There are doubts within NATO ranks too. In February, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of US forces, said that only one percent of Afghan units could conduct operations independently.
Moreover, the fact that between 25 and 33 percent of soldiers leave the army every year means that they often do not have time to develop their skills.
Currently, between 5,000 and 8,000 young men are being trained every month so that recruitment targets can be reached in time.
The task is not being made any easier by the fact that ISAF soldiers sometimes become the victims of their Afghan comrades - 17 have been killed since January.
Shopping with a Kalashnikov
Another problem is that the police have a poor image within the population, says Thomas Ruttig from Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. "The national police force is partly comprised of former militiamen from the time of civil war – they go shopping with a Kalashnikov and are corrupt."
Moreover, "some of the worst human rights violators of the pre-Taliban era have high positions," he says.
Marco Overhaus from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs is also disillusioned about the capacities of the national police, estimating that only a few units can operate without international support. "A police force cannot be effective if it is not supported by a halfway decently functioning legal system," he comments.
It was these problems that led the US Army to start training Afghan Local Police (ALP) units. But observers fear these are causing more problems than they solve.
"The militias are often formed according to ethnicity and are not very friendly in areas where there are different ethnic groups," says Ruttig.
Human Rights Watch has accused the ALP of murder, rape, theft and intimidation, pointing out that they are little different from other armed groups in Afghanistan.
There is also ethnic rivalry in the national army in which few Pashtuns, who make up the majority, serve. "Most army members are from minorities and do not speak Pashtu," says Shukria Dellawar from the Center for International Policy in Washington DC. She says the army finds it particularly difficult to gain the confidence of the population in the south and east, where soldiers are often accused of being "puppets" of the West.
There are also problems linked with money. Currently there are negotiations underway about possibly discharging around a third of Afghan troops (125,000) by 2016 but observers warn that it would be reckless to release thousands of armed men into an environment where there are few job prospects and a great deal of insurgency.
Although most observers agree that the Taliban will not simply take over after 2014, Candace Rondeau thinks they are likely to control large parts of the country. She fears the central government will collapse and the country will disintegrate into civil war if the situation continues as it is today.
For his part, Carsten Jacobsen admits that there are many unknown factors but thinks that overall, "we will be in a position to hand over responsibility to the Afghan forces in 2014."
Author: Dennis Stute / act
Editor: Sarah Berning