Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Pullout to . . . Afghanistan?

Based on whom you believe, the administration will begin pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq next year, well before the 2006 elections, you can be sure. Despite all kinds of reports and assessments that the Iraqi army and security forces are nowhere near ready to fight the insurgency, and that the rebuilding process to the country's infrastructure has years -- decades, maybe -- to go.

But if the pullout, from the current strength of 160,000 troops to less than 60,000, according to some estimates, is achieved, where are those troops going to go? Perhaps, Afghanistan.

Despite the pronouncements long before President Bush stood on the carrier deck and declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, the administration was declaring the Taliban government of Afgahanistan, which we accused of harboring Osama bin Laden, vanquished. On May 1, 2003, Fox News reported, “In an announcement marking a major victory in America’s ongoing war on terror, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declared Thursday that ‘major combat activity’ has ended in Afghanistan.” President Hamid Karzai won elections last year and all seemed hunky-dory with at least that angle of the "war on terrorism."

Then reality set in. As Joanna Nathan reports in the International Herald Tribune, the illusion of victory over the Taliban extends only as far as the city limits of the capital, Kabul:
Hopes that last year's euphoric presidential elections, which Hamid Karzai took by a landslide, would mean an end to the Taliban have now evaporated. The surrounding countryside is largely a no-go area for all candidates. Nearly all Rona's campaigning will be restricted to the city center.

After a winter lull, it has been a bloody summer in the Taliban heartland, the southern and eastern regions bordering Pakistan. The recent downing of a U.S. helicopter, killing all 16 soldiers on board, was an example of the insurgents' increasing bravado.

Less reported abroad have been the assassination of four pro-government clerics, a suicide bombing in the heart of Kandahar killing at least 30 people, the killing of 10 policemen - six of them beheaded. This against a backdrop of the largest battles and ambushes since the Taliban were overthrown, showing that a determined insurgency is not as easily defeated as early propaganda suggested. (Read the entire article.)
American troops are discovering that far from being defeated, the Afghan Taliban-led soldiers -- they can't be properly called "insurgents" if they control most of the country -- are tenacious fighters. Catherine Philp reports in the Sunday Times of London that the fight in Afghanistan is far from over:
After the Taliban failed to mount the promised campaign of disruption during last year’s presidential election, American military commanders and their Afghan counterparts confidently predicted that the rebel movement was finished. But the intensity of the battles in remote provinces such as Zabul, predominantly in the southeast, have revealed that the Taliban are still a force to be reckoned with, able to count on a steady supply of fresh recruits from the madrassas of Pakistan, where the religious movement was born.

Since the winter snows melted this spring and fighters came out of the mountains, hundreds of Afghans have perished in battles, assassinations and ambushes. Most of the dead have been guerrillas, in fighting that American commanders attribute to a more aggressive search-and-destroy campaign, but many other victims have been government officials and Afghan security forces attacked by the rebels.

Among the dead have been 37 American soldiers, making the past four months the bloodiest period for US forces since they invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to oust the hard-line regime from power. Commanders who just a few months ago were writing off the rebel force now say that the country should expect a further increase in violence before the parliamentary elections in September. (Read the entire article.)
So far the only announced troop additions have been a 2,000-man NATO contingent to boost security for the upcoming parliamentary elections next month. But there are only 18,000 American troops in Afghanistan now. National Guard forces in Afghanistan are being rotated home. Are regular troops going to take their place?


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