Sunday’s event did bring some good news. Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai admits there was an “intelligence failure” on the part of Afghanistan and NATO, the Afghan security forces responded quickly, efficiently, and mostly independently. They only received some support from NATO helicopters. Nearly 40 terrorists were killed versus 8 police officers. Only 5 civilians died. This is partially because the Taliban was not primarily targeting civilians, but the Afghans should be commended for avoiding significant casualties in a chaotic environment. In addition, a new study concludes that the Village Stability Operations that are helping local Afghans defend their communities are working.
The final U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan is about to begin. NATO and Afghan forces will seek to secure the routes to Kabul from the south and the east and to stop infiltration through the Pakistani border. A focal point will be Ghazni Province. Its governor told the U.S., “If you secure Andar [district], you have secured Ghazni, and you have secured Afghanistan.”
There is not much time to accomplish these formidable tasks. The U.S. is withdrawing an additional 23,000 soldiers by the end of September, leaving behind 68,000. The Obama administration is considering further reductions by the end of 2012. All foreign combat forces are supposed to leave by the end of 2014. Luckily, Afghanistan expects its security forces to be 352,000-strong by 2013 and their skills are improving.
There are many obstacles facing Afghanistan as foreign forces depart. The Taliban’s strength is estimated at about 25,000 and the Haqqani network is at about 10,000 members. Most of these fighters are safe in Pakistan and this doesn’t even include groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. We now know that Iran stirred up the unrest following the breaking of the story about terrorist-owned Korans being accidentally disposed of. President Karzai is corrupt and it is very possible he’ll cut a deal with the Taliban or another anti-American force. There are power struggles between warlords that could escalate if a power vacuum opens up.
The primary mission of the U.S., however, is to stop the Taliban and like-minded terrorists from obtaining a base from which to target the West. The upcoming spring offensive will be decisive in completing that mission.
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