Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Afghanistan Update

Afghanistan is often forgotten by Americans, cast behind the controversial War in Iraq. But it is a critical ongoing conflict, and far from resolved. I offer now only a smattering of updates to help the reader get a bit more information on progress.

In general, I must first say that progress is questionable at best. In the past two years, Taliban and Al-Qaeda attacks have been up-- it is my hypothesis that their new center of gravity in Waziristan has given them a place from which to grow, and from which to attack and then escape. The elimination of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Waziristan is probably the most critical goal in the Unite States' War on Terror, and requires not only the stabilization of Pakistan, but also increased cooperation from both Pakistani and Indian leaders (the latter helping to alleviate tensions on the Indo-Pak border and freeing up Pakistani troops). I think a full-scale assault by the Pakistani military with NATO air strikes, lasting perhaps for months, is perhaps the only way to squeeze the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and Pakistan for good.

To emphasize the problem, see the map below: notice how close Waziristan is to Kabul and other large cities in Afghanistan's center of gravity.




Recently, NATO forces have had to fight to drive the Taliban out of border towns near Pakistan which the Taliban had trickled into and taken over.

Many Marines in Iraq are, in fact, calling for a Marine withdrawal from Iraq so that they can go to Afghanistan and finish the job there. An increased troop presence would certainly allow the US to put more pressure on Taliban forces trying to trickle in, but again, it's only a band-aid without a full offensive in Waziristan (or so I feel).

Furthermore, Afghanistan may be short on security forces. It's current 70,000 are relatively well-armed, but Karzai is requesting more. With the Taliban a major threat from Pakistan, that's certainly a reasonable request--but his hopes for 200,000 troops may be excessive. Not only will this be tough to fund (in particular for the international community-- Afghanistan's economy certainly can't support such forces at this point), but may be unnecessary long-term if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the Waziristan area can be crushed.

Unfortunately, I've realized I'm mostly saying what I've been saying before. But in full, Afghanistan can't be forgotten. It's far from success, and more tough offensives need to occur. What's frustrating is the fate of Afghanistan may not be in NATO's hands-- NATO will require the full cooperation and help of Pakistan and its army, who must be willing to make sacrifices and investments in eliminating militants in the northwest and enforcing its security and administration there for years to come. Afghanistan and Pakistan both hang in the balance.
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