Merchant of Death
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Pessimism Grows on Afghanistan
It is unusual to have several high-level administration officials in the same week predict gloom and gloom on one of the major battle fronts in the war against al Qaeda and armed Islamic militants. But that is what has happened in recent days on Afghanistan.

President Bush's surprise visit to Kabul earlier this week did not blunt the impact of the unusual 1-2-3 punch this week delivered as he was en route. Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; John Negroponte; and the State Department all painted a bleak picture of what is happening in that country, something my sources both in Europe and Pakistan have been worried about-and warning about-for almost a year. And they warn it is likely to get much worse this year.

The causes are multiple: Resources siphoned off to Iraq; a growing opium trade providing massive revenue streams for regional warlords who owe no loyalty to the central government or the democratic process; a rejuvinated Taliban drawing strength from both Pashtuns in Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions and a renewed influx of Arab jihadist fighters and money; and a changing of the guard on the ground as NATO takes over for some of the U.S. Special Forces carrying out the brunt of the combat.

While it is a welcome sign of well-deserved concern that senior leaders are publicly acknowledging the problem, there seems to be little being done to actually try to turn the situation around. The new NATO force that will be replacing the Americans in some areas are likely to be less aggressive than the U.S. Special forces troops now on the ground, and no there is no visible shift of resources to try to salvage what should have been a clear-cut, long term victory.

At the Senate hearing, Maples painted a stark picture of Afghanistan, noting that Taliban and related violence had increase 20 percent in 2005. This includes a fourfold increase in suicide attacks and a doubling of the use of improvised explosive devices.

European analysts predict and evern larger surge this year, and warn that the cross-pollination of jihadist groups fighting in Iraq with those in Afghanistan has created a two-way exchange on tactics, operational devices and information on U.S. forces.

"Insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001, and will be active this spring," Maples said in his written statement.

Negroponte said much the same thing, and the U.S. State Department, in its annual worldwide drug survey, said Afghanistan's huge drug industry had severely damaged efforts to rebuild the country's shattered economy, while threatening regional stability.

"Dangerous security conditions and corruption constrain government and international effort to combat the drug trade and provide alternative incomes," the report noted.
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