In several key areas surrounding Kandahar City the Taliban have ceded ground, with many either leaving for now or laying low. The U.S.-led offensive of some 12,000 U.S. and NATO troops and 7,000 Afghan soldiers and police has impaired the cohesion and supply routes of local Taliban forces, resulting in a decline in Taliban attacks.
The operation in Kandahar, the origin and heartland of the Taliban movement, is 18 months in the making. It is Washingtons second major offensive since President Barack Obamas announced deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops last December. In February a U.S. led-force of some 15,000 pushed much of the Taliban out of Marjah, a small agricultural district east of Kandahar. The area is the poppy-growing center of the world and strategic source of wealth in the country.
Following a tactical retreat from Marjah, Taliban forces conducted a sustained campaign of guerrilla attacks in the area that hindered U.S. efforts to stabilize and establish control. According to recent press reports, however, U.S.-led forces have begun to make some progress toward subduing Taliban resistance and propping up a pro-U.S. local power structure.
At the same time, Taliban groups have reportedly gained strength in other parts of the country, including Uzbek and Tajik regions of the northareas beyond the movements Pashtun base, but where the Sunni branch of Islam also predominates.
The Afghan national army and police have proven inadequate and unreliable for Washington. To compensate the U.S. military recently announced plans to increase its target for the number of U.S.-backed private militia troops under the command of local Afghan rulers from 10,000 to at least 20,000. The project, initiated last year in central and eastern areas, remains one of several points of contention between Washington and the weak Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.
Washingtons force in Afghanistan has quadrupled over the last three years to nearly 100,000. The pace and scope of military operations has accelerated, with an escalation of air attacks, ground offensives, and commando raids. Last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a second aircraft carrier off the coast of Pakistan, adding 60 more warplanes available for bombing missions over Afghanistan. Alongside this, has been a steady increase in aerial drone strikes in Pakistan, already exceeding the total strikes conducted in 2008-2009.
As Washington gets more deeply embroiled in war, enthusiasm among its NATO allies continues to wanein part a consequence of a trend among capitalist rulers in Europe toward downsizing their military expenditures and capacity.
The British government, Washingtons number one war ally, recently announced plans for a substantial reduction in its military personnel, artillery, tanks, and global footprint. British prime minister David Cameron sought to assure its U.S. allies of Londons commitment in Afghanistan, currently at 10,000 troops and scheduled to end in 2015. But the announcement signals that the level of its involvement in U.S.-led wars abroad will decline.
U.S.-NATO forces have recently facilitated the movement of Taliban figures to discuss terms with the Karzai government for an eventual end to the fighting, in the hopes of identifying fissures to exploit. It is unclear who the Taliban negotiators are or how much, if any, real influence they wield. Senior Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the Taliban leaderships involvement in the widely publicized efforts, saying they will not enter peace talks until 152,000 foreign troops withdraw from the country.
Reportedly not being invited to participate in the discussions is Mullah Mohammad Omar, former head of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and foremost leader of the Afghan Taliban, whom U.S. officials often describe as irreconcilable.
Also unclear is the extent of the Pakistani governments role in the talks. Relations between Washington have been strained recently following a series of helicopter gunship attacks in Pakistan.
During Secretary of State Hillary Clintons late October visit to Pakistan, she announced the Obama administrations proposal to Congress for an additional $2 billion in military aid as an incentive for greater cooperation against the Taliban and allied groups in Pakistan. Islamabad has not moved against Taliban groups that do not oppose the Pakistani government, and who could potentially help cement Islamabads influence in a postwar Afghanistan.
At the same time, some 1.4 million people remain displaced by Pakistans wars against antigovernment Taliban forces, who have begun retaking areas cleared by the Pakistani militarys major offensive last year.
The Pakistani government has also not agreed to Washingtons recent request to further expand special forces and CIA personnel, the Wall Street Journal reported October 23. According to the Journal, about 900 CIA personnel currently operate in Pakistan.
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