Losing On The Forgotten Front
In November 2007, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb and Senior Policy Analyst Caroline Wadhams issued a report on the war in Afghanistan called The Forgotten Front, arguing that "the situation has dramatically deteriorated since 2005." "Afghanistan faces a growing insurgency that directly threatens its stability and the national security interests of the United States and its allies," wrote Korb and Wadhams. Now, roughly eight months later, the circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan have become even more perilous. In May, American and allied combat deaths in Afghanistan "passed the monthly toll in Iraq for the first time." Not yet over, the month of June has been even deadlier with 39 coalition deaths, which is "the highest monthly toll of the war." In fact, in the first six months of 2007, 28 Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan, but in 2008, that number has already reached 50. On Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen told members of his staff that "violence is up this year by every single measure we look at." According to the Los Angeles Times, the measurable increase in violence has "prompted the military's top leadership to order a review of its strategy in Afghanistan." Commanders believe they need three brigades, or 10,000 troops, to address the situation in Afghanistan, but with the heavy U.S. commitment in Iraq, those numbers are difficult to muster.
IRAQ DRAINING RESOURCES: On Monday, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported that on a recent trip to Afghanistan, "several U.S. commanders complained" to the network that they lack "resources, aircraft, soldiers and support because of the war in Iraq." The complaints of the commanders who spoke to Williams were echoed that same day by Mullen, who told reporters that Afghanistan is "an economy-of-force campaign," which, "by definition," means that "we don't have enough forces there." "I am constrained on forces I can generate quite frankly because of Iraq," said Mullen. Many military officials want to take "advantage of future troop reductions in Iraq by giving U.S. units more time at home to rest and train," but the requirements of the situation in Afghanistan mean that "future troop reductions in Iraq instead will lead to an increase in U.S. units in Afghanistan." With uncertainty about when troop reductions in Iraq will occur, military officials "have begun looking to bases in the U.S. for about 1,000 new troops that csan be sent to Afghanistan in October." At the same time, this strain on the military's resources means that the unpopular "stop-loss" policy won't end anytime soon. In a meeting with soldiers earlier this month, Mullen said that the policy would continue for "the near future" and could "see a slight growth in the next couple of years."
RESURGENT EXTREMISM: "Across a wide swathe of southern and south-eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have never looked stronger since they were driven from power by an American-backed alliance in November 2001," the Economist wrote in a recent issue. A searing example of the Taliban's renewed strength was the massive jailbreak at Sarposa Prison in the southern city of Kandahar earlier this month, when Taliban fighters used suicide car bombs and a concerted rocket-and-machine gun assault to free as many as 1,200 prisoners, including somewhere between 350 and 400 Taliban fighters. The Taliban's tactics have also become more sophisticated. "The Taliban, by and large, have moved -- not unlike what happened in Iraq -- to the asymmetric, IED-style warfare," said Mullen last week. But it isn't only the Taliban that are stressing coalition efforts in the country. New Pentagon data shows that insurgent activity is increasing and spreading into "once stable areas." Attacks are up almost 40 percent in Afghanistan's eastern province, where "a patchwork of Sunni Muslim groups" are clashing with coalition forces, not just the Taliban. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the increased insurgent activity in the Eastern province "a real concern." Gates pointed to the porous border with Pakistan as one of the main roots of the resurgence.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS: Similar to Korb and Wadhams, military officials and foreign policy analysts have been sounding alarm bells over the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan for some time now. At the beginning of 2008, two reports were released by prestigious committees that declared that Afghanistan is "at great risk of becoming 'the forgotten war'" and "could become a failed state." "Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," said the report by the Atlantic Council, which was chaired by retired Gen. Jim Jones. In January 2008, then-CentCom Commander Adm. William Fallon explained the increased tempo of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan by saying "we moved focus to Iraq," and "there was a resurgence of the Taliban." In April, Mullen told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that "with the bulk of our ground forces deployed to Iraq...we cannot now meet extra force requirements in places like Afghanistan."