Afghan Conflict Intensifying
by Charles Lemos, Thu Jun 11, 2009 at 04:17:33 PM EDT
In comments made during a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security, General David Petraeus noted the number of attacks in Afghanistan over the last week hit the highest level since the December 2001 fall of the Taliban. Attacks have risen to over 400 insurgent attacks a week compared to under 50 per week back in January 2004. More from the New York Times:
The violence that has surged for two years in Afghanistan reached a new high last week, and more difficulty lies ahead, the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East said Thursday.
Gen. David Petraeus said the number of attacks in Afghanistan over the last week hit the highest level since the December 2001 fall of the Taliban.
"Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must," Petraeus, in charge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as leader of U.S. Central Command, said during a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security.
"But there is no question the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years in particular and there are difficult times ahead," he said.
There were more than 400 insurgent attacks last week, including ambushes, small arms volleys, assaults on Afghan infrastructure and government offices, and roadside bomb and mine explosions. In comparison, attacks in January 2004 were less than 50 per week.
Extremist attacks in the rural nation tend to increase in the summer months, and in part are spurred by military efforts to crack down on insurgents, Petraeus said.
Petraeus, who led beefed-up U.S. military efforts that helped turnabout violence in Iraq in 2007, noted several challenges in Afghanistan he did not face while in Baghdad -- including the inability of U.S. troops to live among the local residents.
It is probable that the violence will continue to escalate as Afghanistan approaches its presidential elections in August and as more US and NATO troops arrive in the country before waning as the harsh Afghan winter sets in.
Meanwhile Defense Ministers from NATO countries supporting the NATO force in Afghanistan met in the Dutch resort town of Valkenburg. After the meeting, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that NATO allies agree with the United States that progress must be shown in Afghanistan over the next year to 18 months adding that he hopes the US-led NATO coalition forces might be able to "shift the momentum" after the Afghan elections.
Secretary Gates however seems cognizant that support back home for the Afghan war may falter if progress is not achieved quickly. He noted "If we can show we're making progress, if we're heading in the right direction, the American people and the Congress will sustain this effort. But if in a year or so it appears we are in a stalemate and we're taking even more casualties, that patience would wear thin pretty soon."
Update [2009-6-11 21:41:52 by Charles Lemos]: The UK Guardian has a related story noting how much of the "Taliban Surge" is in Helmand and Kandahar provinces:
Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has risen dramatically and Helmand province, the base for thousands of hard-pressed British troops, has become the crucible of an increasingly bloody conflict with the Taliban, figures released today show.
Deaths of foreign troops across Afghanistan increased by 78% over the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2008, according to Nato figures. Most occurred in Helmand where the death rate for British soldiers is continuing at a high rate, with 12 killed last month.
NATO recorded an increase of more than 70% in the number of attacks by insurgents, the vast majority in Helmand. As thousands more US troops pour into Helmand to reinforce Britain's military presence, NATO's latest figures show that on average there are more than 11 attacks in the province every day, far more than anywhere else in Afghanistan.
Neighbouring Kandahar province had the second highest number with just over four daily attacks on average.
"The Taliban's principal military effort is directed at Helmand," a senior British defence source confirmed today.
Most attacks are caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). British efforts at countering IEDs are said to be gaining success with more expert counter measures, described by the source today as "much better procedures". More than 50% of the devices placed by insurgents were now being detected, the source said.