While the Iraq War started in 2003 was regarded as central, Afghanistan was considered a sort of consequence, a secondary theater to be dealt with militarily, and frugally. For a country of about two hundred fifty thousand square miles, mainly mountainous, the coalition troops at the end of 2003 did not even number thirty thousand; moreover, administrative control of the ground had never been achieved, or even tried. Hamid Karzai ruled Kabul and his close family ruled Kandahar. Economically speaking, corruption and subcontracting consumed part of the aid, which for that matter, was modest compared to the military expenditure. This latter had amounted to ten billion dollars since 2004, whereas the Agency for International Development Reconstruction budget was of one billion dollars. The supposed democratization will have only amounted to the decentralization of corruption.
In addition, the feeling that the situation was basically stable in 2002-2003 through to the beginning of 2004 was largely shared. All the more so that very few observers went out into the provinces, save for a few cities. And yet nearly twenty thousand villages were considered damaged or destroyed. No drinking water or electricity was supplied in the south and the east of the country. The irrigation system had become practically unusable and nothing was done to restore it.
During those two years, US troops strove, in vain, to find Osama bin Laden while Hamid Karzai endeavored to control the country and reined in the Northern Alliance, too prevalent in his view. Warlords who controlled strongholds, like the Uzbek Abdul Dostum in Mazar-i-Sharif and Ismail Khan in Herat, were gradually neutralized by being handed ministerial posts, which were attributed based on co-option in order to avoid conflict.
Meanwhile, rural-urban migration and the return of refugees quadrupled the population of Kabul in two years. Of course there was no employment for the overwhelming majority of them. In October 2004, Hamid Karzai was elected president with fifty-five percent of the votes. While ninety-five percent of the national budget came from foreign aid, seventy percent of public expenditure, excluding wages, was allocated to Kabul. Corruption was facilitated by the fact that aid was not coordinated (International Monetary Fund and World Bank). Notwithstanding, officially, the situation was declared to be on the right track, well on the way, and the adversary’s offensive capacity to be essentially broken. It was only by going out on the field oneself, like to Wardak for example, that one learned what in Kabul was only known by a few.