Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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A Serious Problem with The Surge
The Bush administration has finally turned its attention in a serious way to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. It has, of course, been seriously deteriorating for some time and the attention is likely to be brief.

Afghanistan has been the victim of international attention deficit disorder. Not only the Bush administration suffers this malady that could snatch dfeat from victory.

What has changed in the past 18 months? The Taliban have new weapons, vehicles, communications equipment with encryption, and outreach and propaganda facilities.

Seriously rethinking how to try to retake the initiative is long overdue. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have gone from a defeated, dejected force under fire even from fellow travelers, to resilient heroes in the past two years.

Given the lack of security, people are helping the Taliban, if not for conviction, then out of fear that, ultimately, the Taliban will return, as they have in several provinces already.

The massive focus on Iraq by the Bush administration would have been less damaging to Afghanistan if NATO and other allies had been more willing to pick up the slack.

Unlike the Iraq invasion, where Bush stood virtually alone and the U.S. set the strategy, Afghanistan was a widely supported effort. There was recognition in Europe and NATO that the persistence of the Taliban state and al Qaeda haven were not just a threat to the United States but to the broader Western world.

The consequences of the years of complacency and blind assumptions are now clear. Coming up on six years after occupation of Afghanistan, more opium than ever before in its history is being grown. My sources recently returned from there say the Taliban (the role of al Qaeda is far less clear) are financing their resurgence, including premium payments for new armed recruits, from the opium and heroin trade. The central government controls little more than Kabul. Warlords have increased in power.

Senior Afghani officials talk of the billions in wasted aid, the massive duplication of efforts, the creation of parallel bureaucracies outside of state control, that led much of the international reconstruction project still-born.

Many NATO nations (with the notable exception of the Dutch, Canadians and Brits) have caveats on what their forces can do, when they can engage and what the operational bounderies are. It is a terrible thing to go to war. It is even worse if you are in a war and your senior civilian authorities are unwilling to admit that fact.

Because of Iraq, including the surge now underway, the U.S. has no ability to put more troops into the Afghanistan theater. NATO will likely do little to alter the current situation. The Taliban continues to recruit, arm and train.

Afghanistan's window of opportunity may already be closed. The circumstances that led to the chance for true change, and the undercutting of the appeal of the Taliban, are radically changed. More money and a few minutes of attention will not recreate the tipping point that seems to have tilted decidedly toward chaos and away from victory.
Africa: Different Paths to Success and Failure
Is Iran Reaching Too Far in Iraq?
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