Friday, June 16, 2006

Afghanistan War: It's not only still there, it's heating up

Joe Galloway, soon to retire as a Knight-Ridder columnist, is winding up his run with the same quality work that has made him so respected.  In Meanwhile in Afghanistan, bad is getting worse 06/14/06, he writes of Bush's domestic offensive on the politics of the Iraq War:

It's all about the spin and trying to pick up a little bounce in the polls off the death of al-Qaeda's branch manager in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the fact that after only five months of haggling, the new Iraqi leadership finally managed to appoint ministers of the interior and defense.

Why bother with any straight talk to the American people when all you need is the right spin?

Meantime, while everyone has their eyes on the effort to show that Iraq is going in a better direction no one appears to be noticing that Afghanistan - remember Afghanistan, the poster child for Bush administration success in the global war on terrorism? - is heading south at an alarming pace.

Mullah Omar's Taliban are on the comeback trail with a vengeance this summer, operating in well-armed and disciplined battalion-size units in the south. Drawing on the experience of the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban forces are employing more sophisticated improvised explosive devices as well as mines and ambushes against Afghan government forces and foreign military and aid officials. (my emphasis)

He sketches the sad story.  NATO troops were schedule to be substituted for some US troops starting in July, freeing up the US forces to go to Iraq.  We've been conducting the guerrilla war there using a lot of aerial bombing, which has damaged the guerrillas forces but also killed a lot of civilians and made a lot more people want to kill Americans.

Juan Cole has commented that the US press tends to use "Taliban" for any guerrilla opposition in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.  However, though they may have similar ideologies, they aren't necessarily all part of Mullah Omar's old Taliban group.

Galloway reminds us the biggest thing that went wrong in the Afghanistan War:

What got in the way of doing those things that were vital and necessary, put plain and simple, was an American administration hell-bent on jumping off into a much higher-profile war in Iraq - a war that would signal evildoers that American muscle was back, spread democracy in the Middle East and make the world a safer place.

Well, we got Saddam, didn't we?  Mission Accomplished.

Ahmed Rashid also writes about the situation in Afghanistan: On the Brink New York Review of Books 05/24/06 (06/22/06 editon).  Rashid provides a good look at the present state of the Karzai government.  His numbers on American troops are confusing, though.  At one point, he writes (in section 2) that the US has 23,000 troops there, which is the last number I recall seeing before his article.  But later (section 4), he uses an 11,000 figure.  The 23,000 number is probably closer to correct.

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