April 30, 2008

Afghanistan update from Think Progress

Not Winning

In a press conference yesterday, President Bush said, "I think we're making progress in Afghanistan" -- days after President Hamid Karzai was the subject of an attempted assassination plot. The Interior Ministry said the Taliban, nearly vanquished from the country in 2001, admitted to launching the attack. These rounds of violence are the latest in what has been an eroding situation over recent years. The United States is also struggling to gain international support for the efforts in Afghanistan. "Many of them, I think, have a problem with our involvement in Iraq and project that to Afghanistan," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in February. While the United States has deployed a "new 2,300-strong reserve force" of Marines to Afghanistan, the country still does not receive the necessary attention. Karzai's escape "should serve as a wakeup call to shift the focus to a new front," Center for American Progress (CAP) Senior Fellow Brian Katulis wrote yesterday. CAP has recommended a multi-pronged approach to Afghanistan, including building the governnment, increasing security, jumpstarting reconstruction, reducing opium production, and removing terrorist sanctuaries through redeployment of troops.

WORSE IN 2008?: 2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001, with 6,000 killed in the country. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said violence in 2008 "may well reach a higher level than it did in 2007," as insurgents pour in from Pakistan. "This year won't be different," he said. The attempted assassination of Karzai "came as the latest sign of a trend" that the insurgency in Afghanistan "is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country," Christian Science Monitor reported this week. Furthemore, "[t]here is no security force in Afghanistan that people trust," according to member of parliament Ramazan Bashardost. He added that, after a recent attack, "the security forces fled the area before the ordinary people did." Afghanistan also has rates of illiteracy "among the highest in the world," a "weak and corruption-ridden government," and still retains the world's largest opium poppy crop.

BUSH CLAIMS WE'RE WINNING: Nevertheless, Bush remains blindly optimistic. "Do you think we're winning?" in Afghanistan, a reporter asked yesterday. "I do, I think we're making good progress. I do, yes," Bush said. But his leadership in Afghanistan has been anything but successful. The White House even "acknowledged that its strategic goals are unmet in Afghanistan in its own assessment late last year, but it has not yet implemented any major policy shifts on the Afghanistan front," Katulis noted. For example, according the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, "Western countries have failed to deliver $10 billion of nonmilitary assistance pledged to Afghanistan over the last six years and the United States, by far the biggest donor, is responsible for half of the shortfall." Funding for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which Bush "has called the leading edge of stabilization efforts," is "ad hoc and comes from so many sources that congressional investigators were unable to determine how much has been spent," a House Armed Service Committee report said last week. "[M]ilitary force, while necessary, is not sufficient to defeat militants in Afghanistan," Lawrence Korb and Caroline Wadhams of CAP wrote in January. Karzai has also criticized Bush's military-centric approach, which has caused heavy civilian casualties. "I am not happy with civilian casualties coming down; I want an end to civilian casualties," he said last weekend. "Overall, 42 percent of Afghans rate U.S. efforts in Afghanistan positively," down from 68 percent in 2005 and 57 percent last year, according to a December ABC News poll.

QUESTIONS FOR PETRAEUS: Bush recently tapped Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus to lead U.S. Central Command, replacing Adm. William Fallon, whose premature departure in part stemmed from policy disagreements with the Bush administration. Appearing on PBS's NewsHour in January, Fallon pointed to the Iraq war as an explanation for the deterioration in Afghanistan. "[M]y sense of looking back is that we moved focus to Iraq, which was the priority from 2003 on, and the attention and the resources focused on a different place," he said. Petraeus is strongly associated with the current Iraq policy, which has drained spending and troop deployments away from Afghanistan. He now carries the responsibility of assessing priorities in Afghanistan as well as the entire Middle East. "Confirmation hearings for General Petraeus later this year offer an important opportunity for Congress to raise questions about how America can strike the right balance and match its considerable yet strained resources to the numerous threats it faces in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq," Katulis notes. "It's time to separate out these two wars, or else we may lose both," Korb and Wadhams add.

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