Meanwhile in Afghanistan, bad gets worse

This week, the Bush administration has been accentuating the positive in Iraq with Camp David Cabinet sessions, a five-hour presidential drop-by in Baghdad's Green Zone, a rare Bush news conference and Republican moves in Congress to fend off demands for debate on the war and seize a little high ground ahead of the fall election campaigns.


It's all about the spin and trying to pick up a little bounce in the polls off the death of al-Qaida's branch manager in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the fact that after only five months of haggling, the new Iraqi leadership finally managed to appoint ministers of the interior and defense.

Why bother with any straight talk to the American people when all you need is the right spin?
Meanwhile, as everyone has their eyes on the effort to show that Iraq is going in a better direction, no one appears to be noticing that Afghanistan -- remember Afghanistan, the poster child for Bush administration success in the global war on terrorism? -- is heading south at an alarming pace.

Mullah Omar's Taliban are on the comeback trail with a vengeance this summer, operating in well-armed and disciplined battalion-size units in the south. Drawing on the experience of the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban forces are employing more sophisticated improvised explosive devices as well as mines and ambushes against Afghan government forces and foreign military and aid officials.

This is happening just a month before U.S. forces are scheduled to begin turning over responsibility for that volatile region to some of our NATO allies.

To be sure, American airstrikes have wreaked havoc on the larger Taliban units when they come out to fight. But the collateral damage, the death and destruction visited on nearby civilians, has grown as well.
The developments already have caused the Pentagon to delay or cancel plans to draw down U.S. forces by a brigade, or about 3,000 troops out of the estimated 18,000 now deployed in Afghanistan.

Many villagers in that impoverished region, fed up with waiting for things to get even a little bit better under the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, have welcomed the return of the Taliban.
Why is this happening now, almost five years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to our invasion of Afghanistan and the quick overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban regime?

No one questioned the need for swift and decisive action in response to al-Qaida's terrorist attack on the United States. Job One was cleaning out the Taliban regime that had sheltered and supported Osama bin Laden's plot that left more than 3,000 Americans dead.

It can be fairly argued that the Bush administration failed to send enough American forces to Afghanistan to do a thorough cleanup of the bad guys. Not enough were sent to block al-Qaida's escape routes into Pakistan. Not nearly enough was done to build a credible Afghan army and police force to begin securing the country. Not enough was done to begin rebuilding a country shattered by a quarter-century of war and civil war.

What got in the way of doing those things that were vital and necessary, put plain and simple, was an American administration hell-bent on jumping off into a much higher-profile war in Iraq -- a war that would signal evildoers that American muscle was back, spread democracy in the Middle East and make the world a safer place.

Before 2001 even ended, the administration began siphoning off some of the resources needed to finish Job One in Afghanistan to prepare for the invasion of Iraq. Predator drones and special operations forces, troops, money and planners were diverted from the unfinished Job One to Job Two. Afghanistan would languish as a backwater, an afterthought, a "victory" in the global war on terror to be trotted out occasionally to take people's minds off Iraq.

If there was one place where we should have maintained full focus, it was Afghanistan.
If there is one place where you never take your eye off the ball, it is Afghanistan. That's a lesson learned the hard way by invading armies from Alexander to the British Empire to the Soviet Union.
Not for nothing does the last stanza of Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Young British Soldier" go like this:
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
"And the women come out to cut up what remains,
"Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
"An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

Joseph L. Galloway is former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers can write to him by e-mail at

Von: 16.06.06

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