Every now and then, it's a good idea to check in on the War on Terror™'s forgotten sibling: Afghanistan, the Nicky Hilton of U.S. military conflicts.
When I last wrote about Afghanistan, the Taliban was promising a military offensive for spring. Promise isn't quite right. They were boasting. They were threatening. They pretty much sent out an Evite.
Reportedly, the Taliban's objective was to capture the road linking Kabul and Kandahar. Kabul is Afghanistan's largest city and capital. Kandahar is the country's second-largest city and hometown of the Taliban. If successful, the Taliban would have been able to consolidate its gains.
Yet here we are, less than a month until the start of summer, and the offensive has yet to materialize.
I'm serious. That's terrific news.
It's usually our leaders doing the overpromising and underdelivering.
According to Britain's Telegraph newspaper, the Taliban took such a huge beating last year at the hands of British forces that it lacks the "mid-level commanders" needed to coordinate the offensive. The same article reports that the death of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah at the hand of the U.S. military this month was a big blow to Taliban morale.
By the way, if you ever want to improve your morale, just jump up and down and say "Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Dadullah ..." until you're out of breath. Works every time.
Sadly, the Taliban's Spring Inoffensive is the only happy news coming out of Afghanistan.
Middle-management issues aside, the Taliban's position in Afghanistan is improving relative to the United States, NATO and the U.S.-installed Afghan government.
Terrorist attacks were up 53 percent in Afghanistan last year. According to Frank Urbancic Jr., the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have learned new tactics by watching the insurgency in Iraq.
Fighting is as heavy there as it has been since the Taliban was tossed in 2001. The BBC reports that more than 4,000 people died last year in fighting between Taliban, al-Qaeda and international forces. Even without the offensive, Taliban attacks have increased this spring from about five per day to 15.
Because the Taliban lives among civilians, and the United States and NATO rely so heavily on air power, the increased fighting has led to an increase in civilian casualties.
After a U.S. airstrike in May killed 21 civilians in a single village, NATO promised to review its air tactics in Afghanistan. Demonstrating an impressive grasp of the obvious, the NATO supreme commander recently told reporters "Every time that happens, someone walks away, an Afghan citizen, with a bad feeling towards either NATO or the United States."
Afghan leaders, spurred by an increasingly bold Afghan news media, have increased expressions of their displeasure with the United States and NATO operation. Afghan president and White House BFF Hamid Karzai has warned that his country's patience with foreign soldiers is fading. And one house of the Afghan parliament has now called for a cease-fire, negotiations with the Taliban and a date for withdrawal of foreign troops. The United States' window of opportunity in Afghanistan isn't closed. But it's closing.
Threatening to complicate the situation in Afghanistan even further is the deteriorating situation in neighboring Pakistan.
The White House's other BFF in the neighborhood, Gen. President Pervez Musharraf, is losing his grip on power. As a result, elements within Pakistan's military who support the Taliban have a freer hand. At the same time, Pakistan's promised military effort to take on pro-Taliban tribesmen in Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan stopped eight months ago.
The Times of London reports Afghanistan's military is now fighting Pakistan's military along its border. Pakistani forces reportedly started the conflict by firing on an Afghan base. A reminder – both countries receive gazillions in military aid from the United States. They're supposed to be fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, not each other.
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