By Mick Krever, CNN
As chaos reigns supreme in Iraq, the United States is painting an optimistic picture for the country where it waged its longest war in history, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has just inaugurated a new president, ending months of political deadlock, and signed a security deal with the United States to keep foreign troops in the country beyond 2014.
But the country has also been rocked by an uptick in violence; this summer the Taliban advanced on Helmand Province, and Thursday saw the third suicide attack targeting the Afghan National Army in the space of just 24 hours.
“This is a very, very different circumstance from Iraq in a number of ways,” Daniel Feldman, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
Unlike Iraq, he said, the Afghan government prioritizes “unity and inclusiveness,” has agreed to allow American troops to remain in country, and has the continued engagement of the international community.
While America will continue to have boots on the ground, a development he praised, he emphasized – perhaps to a war-weary American audience – that the “primary responsibility” will be to “train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces.”
“Yes, there has been an uptick in incidents,” he said. “But that was to be expected and I think the [Afghan National Security Forces have] done very well.”
Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as the country’s president on Monday after signing a historic deal with his rival in the presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah, who has taken on a role similar to that of a prime minister, called the “chief executive.”
The two men “have a history of working together, despite the fact that this has been a very tense period over the last few months in the aftermath of the runoff elections,” Feldman said.
“They served as finance minister and foreign minister together in the first years of the Karzai administration, and they do share this common vision and a moderate, rational approach … to what government can achieve and how to do it.”
Just a few months ago, it looked like the disagreements over the election could tear the country apart, with Abdullah threatening to set up a separate government. It was partly through the intervention of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the two came together.
“The work to hammer out a government of national unity was done overwhelmingly by the Afghans themselves.”
Feldman had just returned from Afghanistan, where he had been intimately involved in the negotiations.
“They were ninety percent of the way through that when they became stuck on a few key issues. And that's where we helped play a small role in mediating and continuing to move this forward to help facilitate the work that they had already done.”
The two men now face a dizzying agenda, from security to corruption.
“There have been enormous gains made in Afghanistan over the last thirteen years in terms of education with eight million kids now in school, forty percent of them girls, with life expectancy, in civil society, in the roles of women, in media freedoms.”
“But there's so much more to be done in terms of tackling corruption and putting this country on a more stable footing.”
“There's many constituencies in Afghanistan. It obviously has not only ethnic but regional and political and a whole variety of other potential fissures.”
“And that's why the common commitment to unity and to have a unified Afghanistan is what's most critical about this going forward and that both men truly share this and believe that this is what delivers best for the Afghan people.”