Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President George W. Bush speaks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during a bilateral meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in September.
U.S. President George W. Bush speaks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during a bilateral meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in September. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
It has been more than six years since U.S. troops and their Afghan allies swept the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But the Islamist militia is far from beaten.
Taliban attacks, including suicide and roadside bombings reminiscent of Iraq, are on the rise. The militants control vast swaths of territory in the south and west; they are increasingly active around the capital, Kabul; and troublesome even in northern Afghanistan, far from their traditional strongholds.
The war is straining the capabilities of the United States and NATO forces deployed in the country; and there are also evident political strains among the allies. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan there is dwindling support for the government of President Hamid Karzai. It is viewed by many as weak, corrupt and unable to stem the rising insurgency.
This five-part series explores the current state of the war against Taliban forces and what it portends for the future. It addresses assessments of top commanders in the United States and Afghanistan, the status of NATO, troop levels and other support in the country, and the impact of Karzai.
The War: The View from the Pentagon: Part 1 explores military assessments of the fight against the Taliban. Many viewpoints exist among the generals about the extent of the Taliban resurgence and how serious a challenge it is to the United States and NATO forces. Most say only better governance and coordinated aid to the Afghan people can resolve the problem. While there is a sense of stalemate in the war in Afghanistan, there is one bright spot many point to as a success: the American-led counterinsurgency effort in the eastern part of the country. A large number of U.S. troops and tens of millions of American dollars are being poured into the region. That's giving the people of eastern Afghanistan more basic services. At the same time, local councils are slowly taking over more responsibility for governing. The situation is not perfect in eastern Afghanistan, but generals say its much better than other regions.
The War: The View from Kandahar: Part 2 focuses on the fact that the insurgents are moving into new territory surrounding Kabul, including Wardak, Kapisa, Farah, Herat, Nimrooz and Baghlan, among other provinces. According to some jihadi Web sites, the Taliban plans to concentrate its sights on the north after the winter in an attempt to cut off Kabul. Whether the insurgents can achieve this is unclear, but they are turning up in areas to the north where they hadn't been even six months ago. The war in Afghanistan is as much about perception as it is about conflict. While NATO and Afghan troops have made large swaths of the country safer than they've been in years, a growing number of Afghans fear that the insurgents — not their government or the NATO-led coalition — will ultimately win.
NATO: The Difficult Afghan Test: Part 3 takes us through the evolution of NATO and its implications. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War. Now, increasingly, it is being called on to be a rapid deployment force to try to end wars, like the one in Kosovo, and insurgencies, like the one in Afghanistan. It's a new expanded mission — and one that has created strains within the alliance in Europe.
The Military Equation: Part 4 explores changes in the Afghanistan war effort over the past year. It has been the bloodiest since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. Now 3,200 Marines are being sent to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to help in the fight. And there are calls for more NATO forces. We examine what the additional troops, the training of Afghan police and more contributions in other sectors mean for Afghanistan and the American people.
The Karzai Factor: In Part 5, we look at the role of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In the end, no lasting success is possible unless there is effective and honest governance in Kabul that can take the lead in establishing national security and cohesion. A growing number of Afghans question whether the current government is worth protecting. They complain that the government, which they elected, is corrupt — and it does a poor job of providing basic services. They accuse the West of caring more about backing President Karzai than addressing his government's problems. Karzai is surrounded by warlord regional governors whom he does not seem able to control. Beyond this, he doesn't have the effective police or army necessary to take the lead in establishing national unity and security.