All change in the US's Afghan mission
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The direct costs of the seven-year "war on terror", which includes operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have reached US$752 billion, if the current year's appropriation of $188 billion is included, according to the non-partisan US Congressional Budget Office.
With the situation in Afghanistan further than ever from being settled, the US response, much like the financial crisis, is to throw more money and resources at the problem.
US General David McKiernan, who commands the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) forces in Afghanistan, said after a meeting in Afghanistan with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week that he needed a permanent increase in troop levels
and other assets such as reconnaissance planes.
Although President George W Bush has said he will send an additional brigade (4,000 to 5,000 troops), McKiernan said he needed three brigades beyond that "to counter the increasing violence and speed up progress in the war". There are currently about 33,000 US troops in the country and if McKiernan gets his way, potentially more than 20,000 troops could be added once support units are counted.
Gates said the George W Bush administration was considering possible changes in its war strategy in Afghanistan, without going into detail. The Independent of London has reported that the US is pushing for sweeping changes to the military command structure in Afghanistan, so the head of international forces reports directly to US Central Command (CENTCOM) instead of NATO.
The newspaper reported that one possibility under consideration was for NATO to continue to be in charge of logistics, force protection and public affairs, while direct counter-insurgency operations would be run from CENTCOM by General David Petraeus, who now oversees US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From the US perspective, seven years after the invasion that toppled the Taliban, progress and speed are certainly needed in this very costly war.
Independent Western think-tanks paint a picture in which the Taliban have a presence in over 54% of the country, including all the important towns around the capital Kabul.
The influential international policy think-tank the Senlis Council reported recently, "Research this summer shows that over half of Wardak province - which neighbors Logar province, and is just 45 minutes from Kabul by road - is under Taliban control, according to local Afghans. This information was gathered by Senlis Council researchers in June 2008, and is proof of the Taliban's resurgence in and around the capital, as well as in their southern and eastern heartlands."
Asia Times Online has reported on Taliban preparations to reach Kabul and its surroundings (Taliban have Kabul in their sights February 27, 2008).
Taliban activities in Wardak are recorded in a recently released video by the Taliban's newly formed media organ, al-Samood. Footage shows camouflaged Taliban fighters on the main highway into the capital attacking a NATO supply convoy, driving around in captured Afghan police vehicles, ferrying ammunition and making preparations for a raid.
Neither the NATO military spokesperson in Kabul nor the Afghan presidential spokesperson responded to Asia Times Online's requests for comment on the video and the security situation around the capital.
The war theater expands
Given the lack of progress in Afghanistan, the US is actively taking the war into Pakistan, where the Taliban have sanctuaries in swathes of the tribal areas across the border.
Admiral Mike Mullen, on his fifth visit to Pakistan since he became chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff a year ago, on Tuesday tried to reassure Islamabad that the US would respect Pakistan's sovereignty. But the very next day there was a further Predator drone missile attack in South Waziristan in which it was claimed that a pile of the Taliban's rockets had been hit. This follows several other drone missions over the past few weeks and an operation by US special forces that killed about 15 people.
The Pentagon says Pakistan's military and civilian government are onboard with the missile attacks, a claim Pakistan dismisses.
Either way, the US incursions have unprecedented unity between local tribesmen, the Taliban and the rank-and-file Pakistani security forces deployed on the border regions. Tribal sources tell Asia Times Online that the next time American ground forces venture into Pakistan they will meet stiff opposition from these now-combined forces.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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