Sean Carberry

As I've been reflecting on the past 2 1/2 years that I've spent in Kabul, it's struck me how much has and hasn't changed. People continue to flood into the city, further straining its infrastructure and services.

But my neighborhood has seen mostly positive changes since I moved to it in 2012.

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Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation set a new record this year, according to an annual survey released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Total cultivation rose 7 percent, compared with last year's record figure, and potential opium production rose by 17 percent.

In 2014, more than 550,000 acres of Afghan land were cultivated — that's approaching the total land area of Rhode Island.

What's causing the jump in opium cultivation?

On the wall at the Buddy Dive Resort on the Caribbean island of Bonaire there's an Old West-style poster. It sums up the feelings here about the beautiful lionfish, pictured with its plume of featherlike fins and amber and white stripes.

"Wanted: Dead," reads the poster.

Hundreds of service members and civilians from various nations lined the road to the landing zone at NATO headquarters in Kabul. They had gathered to salute the two U.S. Marines and two U.S. Army soldiers participating in Operation Proper Exit.

Moments later, two Blackhawk helicopters swooped in, kicking up dust and debris. The four service members disembarked and walk past the cheering audience. One soldier walks with a subtle limp. One Marine has a prosthetic right arm, and the left is missing below the elbow.

The desert sun beat down on the U.S., British and Afghan troops gathered at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The Marines rolled up their flag as it came down, along with the NATO and British banners.

With the ceremony on Sunday, the Afghan army is now in command of Camp Leatherneck and neighboring Camp Bastion, the former British base.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

We often hear about the droves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, but there are also people from places like Tajikistan, Iran and Iraq who are taking refuge in that country. But as NPR's Sean Carberry reports, Afghanistan has no laws to protect these asylum-seekers.

Habemus Praesidentem: there's white smoke in Kabul – figuratively speaking.

And like choosing a pope, selecting Afghanistan's new president has been a long and enigmatic process. Candidate registration began on Sept. 16, 2013. The first round of voting was on April 5. The second round on June 14.

And now, on Sept. 21, Afghan election officials announced that Ashraf Ghani is the country's the next president. He'll succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

There are certain sounds you don't ever want to hear in life — in Afghanistan or elsewhere. One is the sound of sirens and a fire truck pulling up outside your house.

But, when flames are roaring out of your garage and are lapping at the side of the house, the sirens are a welcome sound of hope.

It must have started, we think, when our aging generator caught fire. The flames don't even flinch at the spray of our household fire extinguishers.

As U.S. and NATO troops draw down in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters are growing bolder. They have been massing in larger and larger numbers and taking on Afghan forces across the country.

NPR producer Sultan Faizy and I spent a recent day making calls to ordinary Afghan citizens in some of the country's hot spots.

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