Sunday, December 2, 2007

Washington Post: War going badly

Things 'looking decent' from Taliban standpoint: US official
A recent article in the Washington Post goes beyond run-of-the-mill skepticism on NATO/US pronouncements of progress in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

"I would think that from [the Taliban] standpoint, things are looking decent," [an unnamed] intelligence official said.

... But such claims of success reflect "a very tactical outlook in a game that is strategic," said a former U.S. senior commander in Afghanistan who shares many of the intelligence community's concerns. "I have a lot of respect for [Taliban] strategy," he said. "These guys are not cowardly by any stretch of the imagination."

While U.S. and other NATO forces have maintained a firm hold on major cities, they have been unable to retain territory in the vast rural areas where 75 percent of Afghanistan's population lives, several sources said. ...

In last year's Operation Medusa, [Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation said], Canadian combat troops fought hard for control of the Panjwai district, south of Kandahar. "Four weeks ago," he said, "the levels of Taliban in Panjwai . . . were back up to pre-Operation Medusa."

Experts said the Taliban's control has extended beyond the group's traditional southern territory, with extremists making substantial inroads this year into the western provinces of Farah, Herat and others along the Iranian border ...

[A] former senior U.S. commander said suicide attacks are a "hugely effective tactic" that has been imported from Iraq to Afghanistan, terrorizing the population and convincing Afghans that the coalition cannot protect them. "The idea that [suicide bombs] are a sign of desperation, that's ludicrous," he said.

... [US Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates has acknowledged that U.S. Marine commanders have appealed to him to speed their departure from Iraq for deployment in Afghanistan to address more pressing challenges there. The Special Operations Command has also been lobbying for a more active role along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

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