Afghan Conflict Intensifying

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.

Tags: Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Taliban, US Foreign Policy, Valkenburg Summit (all tags)



Re: Afghan Conflict Intensifying

I think we were expecting a spike in violence with the ongoing deployment of new units to Helmand and the West and the upcoming elections in August.  But it seems like Petraeus is suggesting that we have moved over into a more offensive, ground based, strategy, which I understood was always the intention.  It strikes me that we were inclined to enforce the status quo in Afghanistan up until recently due to lack of resources.

The question is can Balochistan withstand the strain?  The Pakistanis are nowhere near as united in principle on their responses to unrest there and the demographics of the Pashtun population in that province now suggests a linkage with the Talibani activities in FATA and elsewhere.  Chances are our operations in Afghanistan will impact on security in Balochistan sometime soon.

And we really need to get funds to relieve the IDP issues in NWFP out of deliberation and into play, and soon.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 04:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Afghan Conflict Intensifying

No doubt, the Taliban also said that they would "welcome" the American forces as they arrived. It seems that they are keeping that promise.

by Charles Lemos 2009-06-11 04:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Afghan Conflict Intensifying

Certainly agree.  My argument hinges on Pakistan staying the course, without their participation we might as well pack up and go home.  The coincidence of their new-found determination to come to grips with the Taliban and their pending operations in Waziristan, if realised, seem essential to our current strategy.  Obviously there has to be a political solution but in the meantime the security situation must be improved.  Arguably we need to divide the Taliban, render the most militant and enduring al Qaeda allies ineffective and bring the remainder into the political process.  

Your diary regarding unemployed young men seemed to address the underlying problem, in the absence of gainful employment, besides poppy cultivation, the Taliban is essentially a Works Progress Administration-like program for the unpropertied and restless unemployed.  The only way we are going to stop that is with a significant investment in Afghanistan's economy, the thing the Russian military veterans suggested as the only likely way to 'win' this occupation.  A lot depends on reforming the waste and corruption now endemic among our Afghanistani allies and our own contractors.

In the meantime we need to claw back a presence and deny havens to the insurgency.  I am a little uncomfortable with this position on ideological grounds but if we set clear objectives and a definite time frame it seems worth a shot.  Otherwise it is time to start looking for the exits and none appear particulary promising.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-11 05:12PM | 0 recs
just to be clear...

are you suggesting that the rate of recent attacks exceed the normal rate of conflict during the summer fighting cycle that has long dominated this part of the world?

by bored now 2009-06-12 02:32AM | 0 recs


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