Doubts growing over Afghan strategy

KABUL – Four years after the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban regime, doubts are growing about the U.S. ability to defeat a growing insurgency. Reports by the BBC, Pakistan Tribune and China News Agency indicate that bombings and shootings continue almost daily in the south and east, along with a rise in suicide attacks, for which Afghan officials believe al-Qaeda is partly responsible,

Despite the election of Pres. Hamid Karzai last year and a new parliament due to convene in January 2006, attacks have claimed at least 1,400 lives in the past year, the highest toll since 2001. Since the spring, evidence has been mounting of a renewed drive by Osama bin Laden’s network, particularly in eastern Afghanistan.

On Nov. 25, for example, a remote-controlled bomb in Mazar-i-Sharif seriously wounded four Swedish peacekeepers; one subsequently died, the Pakistan Tribune reported. The next day, an officer and three soldiers were kidnapped in a southern province after Taliban militants attacked and burned the district chief’s building. The same day, the Taliban attacked an Afghan army convoy, killing five soldiers and wounded six others, according to Radio Tehran.

The official U.S. view is that things are on track. In fact, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Afghanistan is a model for Iraq. But when the BBC spoke to Afghan police and security officials, the general view was that Taliban and al-Qaeda tactics are becoming more threatening. "We are very worried now," one senior police officer told the news service.

A senior UN official added, "We never imagined we would still be talking about a Taliban insurgency four years on. We have got to admit the current approach is not working.”

Concern is especially high among humanitarian workers. "The aid community loses more people here than in any other crisis area of the world," said a senior representative of the Afghan NGO Safety Office. "The security situation is slowly deteriorating," Paul Barker, country director for Care International, told the BBC.

The hope is that Afghan security forces will gradually be able to handle the problem. The Pentagon has announced plans to start withdrawing up to 4,000 troops next year, but these plans may have to be changed. "Next spring, we’ll all be listening again to the coalition saying the Taliban are finished and on the run," one aid worker predicted.