Thursday, March 27, 2008

Grim News From Afghanistan's Endless War

James Gordon Meek

The snow hasn't even melted in the foothills of Afghanistan's rough and tumble Hindu Kush, but already bad news is flooding in from America's 6 1/2-year war there. And hardly anyone seems to be paying attention.

One of the earliest - and grimmest - assessments this year came February 27 from the stone-faced commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, who is responsible for military operations along the jagged Durand Line (aka the Afghan-Pakistan border). The other dismal overview of the war was delivered at virtually the same hour from Team Bush's intel czar, Adm. Mike McConnell.In an open Pentagon briefing attended by the New York Daily News and only five other interested reporters, Rodriguez explained by video link from Bagram Airfield that Al Qaeda now essentially oversees much of the Taliban's operations in the escalating Afghan war. Let me put this another way: Al Qaeda is comfortable enough in Pakistan now to orchestrate major ground combat operations in Afghanistan. Read The News' report here, and Rodriguez's full remarks here.

"We are seeing an increase in cooperation between the insurgents as well as the terrorists led by Al Qaeda," Rodriguez said. "They're cross-fertilizing their tactics, techniques and procedures, and also, again, getting resourcing mainly from Al Qaeda, who is the central player in the terrorism equation."

Rodriguez also backed off his prediction that the Taliban won't mount their usual spring offensive, saying he is "expecting the same type of things" in 2008 that transpired last year - suicide bombings and other attacks.

On Wednesday, one of Rodriguez's brigade commanders, Col. Martin Schweitzer, told reporters that "direct fire attacks" - combat, in plainspeak - have decreased along the Pakistan border, "although there's about a 15 percent increase in the IEDs" which he said was a "change in tactics" by the enemy over the past year. Read Schweitzer's full remarks here.

Meanwhile, The News reported Wednesday that Operation Enduring Freedom is nearing the horrible milestone of 500 American troops killed since 9/11. We also uncovered an overlooked statement that the director of national intelligence, McConnell, submitted to a Senate committee before an oversight hearing, in which he admitted things have gotten worse in Afghanistan despite last year's U.S.-led NATO offensive. Read his full written testimony here, and a transcript of the February 27 hearing here.

Despite NATO's record of winning firefights, "the security situation has deteriorated in some areas in the south, and Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul," McConnell wrote.

Not bad enough? The DNI also stated: "The Taliban-dominated insurgency has expanded in scope despite operational disruption caused by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom operations. The death or capture of three top Taliban leaders last year - their first high level losses - does not yet appear to have significantly disrupted insurgent operations."

The Senate Armed Services Committee's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), asked McConnell at the hearing, "Overall, has the anti-government insurgency been contained?"

"No, sir. I wouldn't say it's contained," McConnell replied. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east [on the Pakistan border], and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

"Once you start seeing Taliban operations around Kabul and in the north," ex-CIA Osama Bin Laden hunter Mike Scheuer told me, "the Afghans are saying, 'We're going to have to throw these guys out of here just like the Russians.'"

No comments: