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Bloody toll of Afghan war causes splits in US

by Simon Assaf

The occupation of Afghanistan is spiralling towards an ignoble defeat unless there is a “super surge” of troops—that is the warning from senior US and British generals.

It is a message that has not been welcomed in Washington or London.

General Stanley McChrystal, the new overall commander of occupation forces, wants to abandon Barack Obama’s “Af-Pak” strategy and retreat from large sections of Afghanistan.

The Af-Pak strategy involved a simultaneous push by Pakistani and Nato forces to clear insurgents from the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

McChrystal admits that this will not work.

He is demanding instead that the US and its Nato allies send in another 30,000 troops—on top of the 100,000 already in the country—in a desperate bid to secure major urban areas.

His call has found an echo among British generals.

General Sir David Richards warned of the “terrifying prospect” of defeat by the Taliban. He is pressing Gordon Brown for more troops and equipment.

Demands for more troops have triggered a huge split between the US military and the Obama administration.

Obama fears that McChrystal’s strategy will mean that the Pakistani Taliban will be able to retreat into Afghanistan in the same way as Afghan insurgents were able to set up safe havens in northern Pakistan.

Civilian

McChrystal also wants to flood the country with “civilian administrators” in an attempt to undo the damage created by Hamid Karzai, the corrupt Afghan president who was once a key US ally. But such a civilian force does not exist.

The split between the US administration and the military has been reinforced by one of the biggest single loss of lives suffered by US troops for a year.

Insurgents overran two US bases in the Nuristan Province, 30 miles from the border with Pakistan, in a bold attack last weekend.

Some 300 fighters stormed the bases in daylight, killing eight US troops, and taking 35 Afghan soldiers and policemen prisoner.

These attacks show that the insurgency’s fighting abilities and supply lines are strengthening.

According to the district governor, locals who were angry at a US airstrike on a nearby medical centre, came to the aid of the insurgents.

The Obama administration had banked on the Af-Pak strategy, pointing to the Pakistani army’s recent successful offensive against local insurgents.

The US was hoping that the next stage would be to close down Taliban bases in Pakistan’s Balochistan province—the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban.

This is now in doubt.

Pakistani insurgents set off a bomb in Islamabad on Monday near the heavily protected offices of the World Food Programme, killing five workers.

October has been the bloodiest month in the bloodiest year for the occupation.

An Afghan guard shot dead two US soldiers last week and wounded two others as they slept. In a separate incident an Afghan army patrol turned their guns on US troops, killing two. A roadside bomb killed another US soldier, and two trucks transporting fuel to Nato forces from the northern border with Tajikstan were set alight by the Taliban.

Support for Nato is falling away in some countries. The new Dutch government has recently announced that it will end its military presence next year.

According to press reports the US president is said to be furious over McChrystal publicly admitting that the occupation faces collapse.

One Obama advisor said, “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naive or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hardball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”

But time is running out for the occupation forces.

The Taliban and other insurgent groups are now extending their influence over large sections of the country.

The demand for more troops is a reflection of that fact that there are not enough soldiers to keep the insurgency in check.


Article information

News
Tue 6 Oct 2009, 18:30 BST
Issue No. 2172
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