Taliban Expanding Their Influence in Afghanistan

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who worked on an advisory board to General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, joins Martin Savidge to discuss if victory is possible for NATO forces.

In his comments, Mr. Cordesman finds that the Taliban has been steadily expanding the areas they occupy, steadily expanding their political influence and steadily expanding their control of the Afghan economy which should be translated as that they control the opium trade that represents nearly 60% of Afghan GDP. He notes that in much of Afghanistan Taliban courts are the ones that adjudicate justice adding that the Taliban "are the only real presence of government." Mr. Cordesman coldly notes that the Taliban are "winning the battle of political attrition."

And yet Mr. Cordesman believes that victory in Afghanistan is still possible but would require a restructuring of the Afghan army in conjunction with putting in the "necessary resources" for the development of the country. He is also critical of the Karzai government citing its culture of corruption.

One of the more telling statements as to who is calling the shots in Afghanistan is Mr. Cordesman's confessional that "we created a system that was extremely centralized in order to try to make the warlords weaker" but which unintentionally "strengthened the warlords." He goes on to bemoan a vacuum of power at the provincial and local level.

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Talking to The 'Second-Tier' Taliban

The UK Guardian reports on concerted effort to start unprecedented talks between the Taliban and British and American envoys.

Senior ministers and commanders on the ground believe they have created the right conditions to open up a dialogue with "second-tier" local leaders now the Taliban have been forced back in a swath of Helmand province.

They are hoping that Britain's continuing military presence in Helmand, strengthened by the arrival of thousands of US troops, will encourage Taliban commanders to end the insurgency. There is even talk in London and Washington of a military "exit strategy".

Speaking at the end of the five-week Operation Panther's Claw in which hundreds of British troops were reported to have cleared insurgents from a vital region of Helmand province, Lieutenant-General Simon Mayall, deputy chief of defence staff, said: "It gives the Taliban 'second tier' room to reconnect with the government and this is absolutely at the heart of this operation."

The second tier of the insurgency are regarded as crucial because they control large numbers of Taliban fighters in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan. The first tier of Taliban commanders - hardliners around Mullah Omar - could not be expected to start talks in the foreseeable future. The third tier - footsoldiers with no strong commitments - are not regarded as influential or significant players.

Operation Panther's Claw is a recently concluded campaign in Helmand Province conducted by British troops. British commanders hope that campaign will prove a decisive turning point in the eight-year conflict. The operation took nearly 3,000 British troops, many engaged in gun battles, to capture an area of 150 square miles. The advances helped to secure the territory with a population of 80,000 which had been held by a estimated Taliban force of 500.

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Economic Protectionism Threatens National Security

Economic protectionism does more than threaten economic recovery these days, it also threatens national security. Economists agree that economic protectionism is a losing strategy for strengthening GDP. Barriers to free trade and commerce actually harm native economies by proliferating protectionism globally as nations respond by passing defensive barriers of their own.

But the domestic economy is not the only thing threatened by some protectionism under consideration in the US Congress right now. The Kansas City Star reports, a new trade measure proposed by the White House would provide for "Reconstruction Opportunity Zones" in Pakistan, a lynchpin in the war on terror.

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Pakistan's Media Out of Touch

Pakistani journalist Nadeem Paracha, in a superbly referenced post on The Dawn Blog, takes his colleagues in the Pakistani media to task for their self-serving coddling of Islamic extremists.

It is a rather stunning experience watching certain TV talk show hosts, journalists and assorted ‘experts’ continuing to find newer and more bizarre ways to stick to an obviously reactionary and, if I may, paranoid line in this respect, especially at a time when a majority of Pakistanis, including well known religious scholars, have started to freely exhibit anger and bitterness towards phenomenon like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The question arises, is this a matter of defending an ideology for which these TV and press men are ready to face ridicule? Or is this peculiar attitude about something else?

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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.

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