U.S. vice president Joseph Biden, who had previously asserted that a whole lot of U.S. troops would be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, now says that is unlikely. U.S. military commanders have stressed that any U.S. withdrawal will be conditions-based.
As the war drags on, some prominent politicians who support the U.S.-led war are raising concerns about Washingtons lack of progress against the Taliban.
Republican senator Richard Lugar, a prominent supporter of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, complained at a July 14 Senate hearing that Washington was proceeding without a clear definition of success.
Democratic senator John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, Many people are asking if we have the right strategy.
The disclosure of 92,000 U.S. military reports by WikiLeaks, which posted the documents on its Web site July 25, has added to the uneasiness in Washington. While revealing little new that adds to the understanding of what is going on in the war, the documents highlight the obstacles U.S. imperialism faces in the region.
Karzai initially opposed the local militia plan put forward by Gen. David Petraeus, who recently took command of the U.S. and NATO military forces in the country. But the Afghan president later acquiesced to a major expansion of local community police forces to fight the Taliban.
U.S. officials told the Times that they would like to rapidly arm as many as 10,000 militia members. U.S. Special Forces have already set up militias, especially in the southern part of the country. Karzai worries that strengthening the militias would undermine the already weak power and authority of the central government.
Tribal militias and private armies held sway in Afghanistan before Taliban forces took control of much of the country in 1996. After the U.S. invasion overthrew the Taliban in 2001, many of the warlords who cooperated with Washington hoped to regain their power and control.
Petraeuss plan to bolster these local groups is an indication that Washington has been unable to transform the undisciplined Afghan army and police into a reliable fighting force.
NATO is training some 20,000 Afghan soldiers at any one time in its bid to increase the size of the Afghan army from its current 119,000 troops to 171,000 by 2014. However, they have not made headway in stemming desertions or improving its fighting capacity.
Petraeus is the main architect of the counterinsurgency strategy implemented by his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The strategy says U.S. forces should focus on clearing Taliban and other insurgent groups from populated areas, send in enough troops to hold those centers, and use aid programs and other incentives to win support from the population and local rulers.
The well-publicized February offensive in Marjah in Helmand Province was supposed to be a shining example of this strategy. Some 15,000 coalition troops pushed the Taliban out of town and planned to spread the central governments control to the 80-square-mile farming community.
But by May Taliban forces were openly operating again throughout the area. In July the Afghan government replaced its representative in Marjah in an effort to establish stability there.
An article in the July 13 Wall Street Journal highlights some of the challenges Washington faces. It describes how the U.S. government spent more than $100 million to upgrade the Kajaki hydroelectric plant in Helmand Province in an effort to undercut support to the Taliban.
But the paper noted that since the plants output doubled, nearly half of the total electric output goes to districts where the Taliban are in control. In those districts, the Journal reports, residents pay their monthly bills to Taliban officials.
The transmission lines crisscross both government- and Taliban-controlled districts, which are so intermingled its not easy to cut off the power in any one area without affecting another.
When Taliban commanders blew up an electrical pylon in the Sangin district, the Helmand provincial government shut down power to a Taliban-held area. Leaders of the main Pashtun tribes complained and a deal was worked out between the central government and the Taliban to restore electric transmission, at least for now.
International conference in Kabul
At the international conference in Kabul, some 60 governments jockeyed to advance their competing interests in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton represented Washington. Foreign ministers from China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates also participated.
Currently only about 20 percent of international aid money is channeled through the central government; the rest is disbursed directly by UN agencies, private contractors, and other organizations. The conference endorsed a plan to increase to 50 percent the amount of aid given directly through the Afghan government.
On the eve of the conference the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a trade pact, indicating an improvement in Islamabads often acrimonious relations with the Karzai regime. The Afghan president also recently agreed to send Afghan military officers to Pakistan for training.
Pakistani intelligence agencies have long supported armed Islamist groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan as proxy forces in their contest with the Indian government over influence there.
Indian investment since the U.S. invasion in 2001 is more than $1.2 billion, making it one of the largest investors in Afghanistan. New Delhi has accused Islamabad of being behind frequent attacks on Indians working there.
Washington is tripling its economic aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years. At the same time it is pushing Islamabad to take action against the Afghan Taliban and its allies that operate from Pakistan.
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