They're Baaack: Taliban fighters are gaining confidence--and territory.(Photo by Moslihh via his Flickr page).
It wasn't that long ago--a mere month, to be exact--that Michael Hayden, the CIA chief, spoke glowingly of American victories in the "war on terror." "The ability to kill and capture key members of al-Qaeda continues, and keeps them off balance -- even in their best safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border," Hayden told the Washington Post. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was skeptical:
The positions attributed to you are not consistent with assessments that have been provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee over the past year. If the Intelligence Community’s assessment of al-Qa’ida has changed, I would expect the Committee to be made aware of these changes immediately. If the assessment has not changed, then I ask that you explain why you would portray the terrorist movement as “on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.” In fact, I have seen nothing, including classified intelligence reporting, that would lead me to this conclusion.The situation has been deteriorating so quickly in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Hayden's assessment now sounds like the right hand of the U.S. government doesn't know what the left hand is up to. On Saturday, the Times reported that the Taliban had made vast and virtually unchecked gains in Pakistan's northwestern, to such a point that Peshawar, the Pakistani city just 90 miles from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, is now vulnerable to Taliban conquest. Peshawar is a city vital to American and NATO resupply efforts in Afghanistan. "The specter of the fall of Peshawar," the Times wrote, "threatens the fabric of the country."
The same day, the Wall Street Journal's lead story was unequivocal: "U.S. Sounds Afghan Alarm; Pentagon Report Says Taliban Resurgent." It's grim reading: "In a remarkable shift, Afghanistan, where U.S. officials were once confident of victory, is now rivaling Iraq as the biggest cause of concern for American policymakers. According to a new Pentagon report, Taliban militants have regrouped after their initial fall from power and "coalesced into a resilient insurgency." The report paints a grim picture of the conflict, concluding that Afghanistan's security conditions have deteriorated sharply while the fledgling national government in Kabul remains incapable of extending its reach throughout the country or taking effective counternarcotics measures."
The Taliban pulled off 2,615 roadside attacks in 2007, a 35% increase over the 2006 total of 1,931 attacks. More than 6,500 people were killed in Afghanistan in 2007. American and coalition forces suffered their heaviest losses since the war began in 2001--117 American and 115 NATO soldiers killed for a total of 232, compared with 191 in 2006. The tally so far this year: 61 Americans and 58 NATO troops.
The most telling, if unsurprising, dilemma for U.S. troops? As the Journal put it, "U.S. commanders say they need more forces, but they can only be provided through withdrawing troops from Iraq. As a result, the administration may have to choose between accepting a smaller U.S. presence in Iraq or facing the prospect of turmoil in Afghanistan."