Monday, August 25, 2008

Afghanistan Getting Worse

Kabul, Afghanistan - The war in Afghanistan forges ahead. But a new reality is setting in. Unfortunately, it looks like things are likely to get worse before the situation can get better.
How much worse? Attacks by insurgents are up by 40-percent over a year earlier in many areas.
NATO commanders are calling for more NATO troops. Forces are stretched thin in the farthest reaches of the Pakistan border areas.
Better equipment is needed. More mine-resistant vehicles are being deployed (though that's not a miracle cure, as the high center of gravity on the vehicles on mountain roads can lead to roll-over problems).
More Afghan troops are needed. The Afghan National Army, with its 70,000 man force, is fighting the Taliban and a half-dozen or so other insurgent groups, including al Qaeda. This year the US has finally agreed to pony up billions more dollars to expand the army by another 50,000 men. By contrast, the police force for New York City is 48,000 officers.
But the biggest and most important change of all is one you won't see mentioned too often: suddenly Pakistan matters.
Up until now, the official line went roughly that the border was unsealable, and the war needed to be won inside Afghanistan instead. The strategy was to win the war by enticing Afghan villagers to reject insurgents after they crossed the porous border and arrived in the villages.
The army's plan is to offer better security, better local Aghan government and a heap of local aid projects (schools, roads and power plants) to persuade the villagers to side with the Kabul government. The war would be won despite the border areas over in Pakistan continuing to host terrorist sanctuaries.
Now Army officers say that strategy is probably not going to be enough.
"I don't think there will be a successful conclusion to the war in Afghanistan until there is a successful conclusion to the issues along the Pakistan frontier," said Brigadier General Mark Milley, the deputy commander of the 101st Airborne Division at Bagram, the unit in charge of many of the border areas.
That assessment bodes especially ill because Pakistan is, frankly, a mess.
Now that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has resigned, a weak government rules Pakistan.
The Pakistan military consistently loses its battles with terrorist in the tribal areas.
Al Qaeda and other militants are becoming more entrenched in the border regions.
The ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, helped blow up the Indian embassy in Kabul last month, according to US intelligence. Hardline ISI officers continue to help the terrorists, as long as they focus on destabilizing Afghanistan.
In short, the situation on the Pakistan side of the frontier is bad and likely to get worse.
Change in Afghanistan is slow, but its remorseless.
The US Army's strategy is an awfully slow one, because it takes literally years to build the roads, schools and hydro-electric plants that are the key to the plan.
Opposing the US, Al Qaeda is slowly putting more effort into Afghanistan, even as it scales back in Iraq. Terrorists are slowly but steadily getting better at killing western soldiers, by using roadside bombs and improving their ambush techniques. Casualties among western soldiers are set to be the highest ever this year.
Something needs to be done. Something is being done. But that something is likely to be dependent more than ever on what happens in Pakistan - where the American military is banned from operating.
So the latest news from Afghanistan is not good.

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