Friday, June 27, 2008

The Cost of Distraction

After wasting hundreds of billions of dollars (and thousands of lives) in the sands of Iraq, the US military has now concluded that the war in Afghanistan - the one being waged against the enemy that actually attacked the US on September 11 - is failing.

The Taliban will likely try to boost its presence in new areas of Afghanistan while continuing to fight in its south and eastern strongholds, the Pentagon warned Friday in its first report on security in the country.

"The Taliban will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas, especially in the south and east. The Taliban will also probably attempt to increase its presence in the west and north," the report to Congress said.

The hardline Islamic militia, which was routed from power in Afghanistan by a US-led coalition in 2001, has regrouped since then and "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."

The Taliban has continued to grow in strength, and Afghanistan suffered its worst violence in some years in 2007, when some 6,500 people died in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and other violence.

The insurgency has been fiercest in the Taliban strongholds of southern Afghanistan and to the east, bordering Pakistan.
The Pentagon report, which recorded events up to April, acknowledged that international forces had "caused setbacks to the Afghan insurgency, including leadership losses and the loss of some key safe-havens in Afghanistan.

"Despite these setbacks, the Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."

Perhaps had the US not diverted its attention and resources from the fight against bin Laden and his Taliban allies to attack a country that had not attacked the US, and was little more than a feeble, tottering shell of a dictatorship, bin Laden might actually be dead and the Taliban nothing more than an especially unpleasant memory in an generally unpleasant part of the world. Instead, the US chose "democratization" and "nation-building" over simple, brutal, lethal retaliation and extermination and then decided to launch an invasion thousands of miles away that has sapped its attention and resources ever since.

Meanwhile, Harmid Karzai's sham of a "democratic" government controls nothing outside of Kabul, and not even all of that. And the Taliban is mounting a "surge" of its own, back by sympathetic Pakistanis.

The "Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" is the first such report to Congress, and a similar accounting will be now made every six months in the same way that the Pentagon tracks the war in Iraq.

On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates lashed out at Pakistan's failure to put pressure on Taliban forces on the country's border with Afghanistan saying it had fueled a rise in violence.

A 40 percent spike in attacks in east Afghanistan in the first five months of 2008 "is a matter of concern, of real concern, and I think that one of the reasons that we're seeing the increase ... is more people coming across the border from the frontier area," Gates told a news conference.

In short, the Bush administration has managed Afghanistan every bit as well as it has managed Iraq - or, for the matter, the US economy.


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