Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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NATO and Afghanistan-The Risk of Failure
Few in NATO, including U.S. leaders, appear willing to face the fact that the war in Afghanistan is growing to be one of the longest in our history and could be one of the costliest. Not just in economic terms, but because no one has been willing to commit the resources to win the war, despite the fact it was nearly won four years ago. The cost of not finishing the job is staggering.

The Taliban, in a move the seemed inconceivable in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is back, moving easily through the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with secure supply lines, money from heroin and other criminal activities (ransoms paid for foreigners included), and a will to win.

On the other side is a weak and ineffective government help in place by a foreign force, protecting ever-small swaths of territory, while Taliban areas of mobility and access increase.

It is not necessary for the Taliban to control vast swaths of territory, they simply need to be able to establish their presence, execute a few of their enemies with impunity, and create a general climate of fear and terror.

Now, as the situation deteriorates, the central government remains riddled with corruption and the inability to prosecute any of the powerful warlords, President Bush is trying desperately to get a weary NATO to do more.

The picture is getting worse, not better. In January retired Gen. James Jones, a former NATO commander, bluntly said in a report report by the Atlantic Council, "Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan."

Jones termed the situation a "strategic stalemate." But in counterinsurgency, the tie goes to the insurgents.

"The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid," the report said. It highlighted the lack of a clear strategy needed to "fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans."

European militaries, burned by the Iraq enterprise and lacking the political will or social backing for a sustained effort in Afghanistan, have placed many restrictions on what the troops from different participating countries can actually do in the field. Many rotate their troops every 6 months, rather than the 15 month deployments of U.S. troops.

One of the problems is that U.S. policy, both at home and in its projection of policy abroad, have failed to decouple the war in Afghanistan from that in Iraq. One enjoyed widespread international support, the other did not. In one, there was a true "Coalition of the Willing," and in the other there only the charade of such a coalition.

There are some signs of progress. The French (1,000), the British (800) and Poland (400) have pledged more troops. On top of this, the U.S. will add several thousand more, as they rotate out of Iraq.

But the question is whether any of these short term fixes will be enough, and whether any of it matters if the Afghan government cannot begin to perform as a national government.

This is a bad situation to be in. U.S. troops are stretched to the breaking point with the surge in Iraq, but arguably a failure in Afghanistan would be even more dangerous. The Taliban, viewing their initial ascent to power as a miracle ordained by Allah, are waiting for another miracle-and are remarkably close to achieving it.

Pakistan, a nuclear nation, and Afghanistan, are really where al Qaeda and radical Islam are entrenched. It is, in my opinion, where the next attack will originate from, and should be of equal worry to Europe. If the senior al Qaeda leadership are safe enough there not to have to be on the move, what is to stop them?

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