The Pentagon has made clear that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan when the rag-tag Afghan security forces have been beefed up to the point where they can keep the peace without help. “Significantly expanding [Afghanistan’s national security forces] is, in fact, our ,” told U.S. troops in last week. But that’s a strategy that could leave U.S. forces in Afghanistan for quite some time to come – for one thing, the economy of impoverished Afghanistan is unlikely, for the foreseeable future, to sustain an army big enough to guarantee the country’s security. And that’s just one of several thorny issues likely to make success in Afghanistan harder to achieve than Iraq – unless the U.S. scales back its ambitious goals for the country. But such a rethink may be on the cards, U.S. military officers say, as internal U.S. reviews and President-elect Barack Obama give the seven-year war a fresh look.
By Mark Thompson
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, center, talks with members of his staff, and flight crew as they travel after leaving Incirlik Air Base in Turkey Saturday Dec. 13, 2008. Gates was changing planes in Turkey after flying out of Balad, Iraq, the last leg of a four-day Middle East tour.(AP Photo/Scott Olson – POOL)
U.S. military officers are already making clear that many of the additional 20,000 U.S. troops bound for Afghanistan in the coming year won’t be headed to the Afghan-Pakistani border where the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies are launching regular and deadly attacks against U.S. and allied troops. Instead, they’ll be concentrated on defending the capital, Kabul, from Taliban attack, and also on reinforcing British troops in Helmand and other parts of the south. That will do little to assuage the criticism that the limited U.S. and deployments in Afghanistan have left with little more real authority than the “mayor of Kabul”, or the reality that the Taliban currently enjoy the momentum.
The U.S. troop “surge” in Iraq may have helped restore relative security there, but the same period has seen a shocking deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan: the Taliban, which controlled 54 percent of Afghanistan in 2007, now controls about 72 percent of the country, according to a new study from the Paris-based International Council on Security and Development, one of the few independent groups that keeps full-time staffers in the country. That’s why U.S. and civilian casualties have spiked in Afghanistan lately after years of being eclipsed by bloodshed in Iraq. There are currently about 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In this undated photo provided by the U.S. Army, Capt. Kyle Walton, right, and Master Sgt. Scott Ford, left, talk to an interpreter in Eastern Afghanistan. Both men will recieve a Silver Star Friday, Dec. 12, 2008 in the largest Special Forces award ceremony since the Vietnam War. (AP Photo/U.S. Army Photo, Sgt. David N Gunn)
The U.S. scattered the Taliban in the invasion launched a month after the 9/11 attacks, but turned its attention and resources towards Iraq. “As seven years of missed opportunity have rolled by, the Taliban has rooted itself across increasing swathes of Afghan territory,” the independent report says. “The increase in their geographic spread illustrates that the Taliban’s political, military and economic strategies are now more successful than the West’s in Afghanistan. Confident in their expansion beyond the rural south, the Taliban are at the gates of the capital and infiltrating the city at will.”
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