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July 15, 2007
Below The Radar, Afghanistan Is Sinking
The news from Afghanistan is grim and getting grimmer according to Britain's most senior generals:
Britain's most senior generals have issued a blunt warning to Downing Street that the military campaign in Afghanistan is facing a catastrophic failure, a development that could lead to an Islamist government seizing power in neighbouring Pakistan. Amid fears that London and Washington are taking their eye off Afghanistan as they grapple with Iraq, the generals have told Number 10 that the collapse of the government in Afghanistan, headed by Hamid Karzai, would present a grave threat to the security of Britain. Lord Inge, the former chief of the defence staff, highlighted their fears in public last week when he warned of a 'strategic failure' in Afghanistan. The Observer understands that Inge was speaking with the direct authority of the general staff when he made an intervention in a House of Lords debate.Inge told the Peers that "'The situation in Afghanistan is much worse than many people recognize," and that the government must face up to "the consequence of strategic failure in Afghanistan and what that would mean for Nato." Are things really this bad? Or, is the left-wing Guardian engaging in some wishful thinking? The good news from a military standpoint is that the much ballyhooed "Spring Offensive" of the Taliban was a rock bottom failure. NATO and Afghan troops seriously disrupted the enemy's plans to stage their own version of a "Tet Offensive" and knock a few countries out of the war. By interdicting Taliban troop movements before they could concentrate, NATO successfully prevented the offensive from getting off the ground in most places. Just in the last month, NATO has killed more than 700 Taliban fighters. But the situation, according to most experts, is in fact, deteriorating. The people are losing faith in the government of Harmad Karzai due to lack of follow through on promises of reconstruction and economic growth. In the south, the Taliban has re-established themselves in many areas either through terror or bribery. Efforts to eradicate the poppy crops thus denying the Taliban a major source of income have been both spotty and unpopular. NATO's patchwork of forces - many of whom are prevented from combat duty by national "caveats" issued by their governments - are too few to hold areas swept clear of the enemy, allowing the Taliban to move back in when the troops leave. And the political situation is deteriorating with fewer and fewer tribal areas willing to align themselves with the national government, preferring local warlords instead. The Taliban have changed tactics since their offensive was blunted. They are now attacking civilians in much greater numbers:
June was the bloodiest month in a long time, with about a thousand dead (700 Taliban, a hundred government and foreign troops and 200 civilians). For the first six months of the year, about 3,200 were killed, compared to about 4,000 for all of last year. About 70 percent of the dead are Taliban. The high Taliban casualty rate is the result of high losses among Taliban leaders, and recruiting many younger, inexperienced Pushtun tribesmen. The more experienced Pushtun gunmen noted the losses from last year, and took a pass on a Taliban paycheck this time around. Their misgivings were well founded, with most Taliban war bands getting chewed up pretty bad.And with Musharraf losing control in neighboring Pakistan, the flow of fighters may increase in the next months unless NATO is allowed to go into the tribal areas of Pakistan to take out Taliban camps and training centers. Musharraf has never allowed this in the past due to the incendiary effect it would have on the Pakistani people. But he may be forced by circumstances to change his mind. All of this is happening in Afghanistan below the media radar. It is going to take a supreme effort by NATO, by the Afghanistan government, and by the US to turn the situation around.