By Robert H. Reid
July 30, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan — Three U.S. troops died in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for July to at least 63 and surpassing the previous month’s record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly 9-year-old war.
In Kabul, police fired weapons into the air Friday to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “death to America,” hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans on the main airport road, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada. …
Yuri Cortez / AFP — Getty Images
The three U.S. service members died in two separate blasts in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, a NATO statement said Friday. It gave no nationalities, but U.S. officials said all three were Americans. …
The tally of 63 American service member deaths in July is based on military reports compiled by The Associated Press. June had been the deadliest month for both the U.S. and the overall NATO-led force. A total of 104 international service members died last month, including 60 Americans. …
July becomes deadliest month for U.S. troops in nearly nine-year Afghan war (Washington Post, July 1, 2010) — With the deaths of six troops on Thursday and Friday, July has become the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly nine-year-long war in Afghanistan. … Full story
Photo timeline: The war in Afghanistan
The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, as the U.S. military launched an operation in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. » Launch photo gallery
24 Minus 8 in Afghanistan (July 14, 2010)
Dutch become 1st NATO member to quit Afghanistan (AP, Aug. 1, 2010) — The Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, drawing the curtain Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government. … Full story
Analysis: Afghanistan War Enters Critical Phase
By Robert H. Reid
August 2, 2010
KABUL, Afghanistan — With U.S. troop strength approaching 100,000, the Afghan war is entering its decisive phase. Without measurable progress in the coming months, political support for the conflict may collapse.
Back-to-back months of record U.S. military death tolls — 60 in June and 66 in July — shocked many Americans, even though the Pentagon had been warning of higher casualties this summer as the U.S. and its allies push into longtime Taliban strongholds around Kandahar city and in the southern province of Helmand.
The campaign is aimed at securing Kandahar, a city of about a half million, the major urban area of the ethnic Pashtun south and the former Taliban headquarters. Securing the city is considered pivotal if the NATO-led coalition is to reverse the Taliban momentum in their southern stronghold.
Failure would be a grave — if not fatal — blow to the entire NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
It could encourage President Hamid Karzai, who was born near Kandahar, to seek a political deal with Taliban leaders on terms that Afghan ethnic minorities, women and the U.S. might find unfavorable. And it could discourage Pakistan from ever cracking down on Afghan Taliban fighters living in border sanctuaries since they may someday wield power in Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves.
But progress in breaking the Taliban’s grip has been slow and difficult to measure in a war where the opinions of rural Afghan villagers are as important — if not more — than seizing strategic terrain. It’s hard to explain the deaths of young soldiers without compelling evidence that their sacrifice was worth it.
Supporters of the counterinsurgency strategy which President Barack Obama embraced last year acknowledge that it will take time to determine whether the operations around Kandahar have achieved even modest success.
Time not on U.S., allies’ side
Even if Taliban attacks decline, it will take time to tell whether the insurgents have been driven off or simply went underground as they did in the Helmand town of Marjah, only to return later with more ambushes and roadside bombs.
Afghan civilians are unlikely to shift their support to the coalition and the Afghan government without compelling evidence that the Taliban are gone and that their own leaders are making good on promises of better public services and good governance. …
Time is one resource that the U.S. and its allies don’t have.
Support for the war is already wavering in Washington and the capitals of the other allied nations that provide troops here. The Dutch ended their combat mission last weekend, and the Canadians plan to pull out next year. The Poles want to leave in 2012.
Last week, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives had to rely on Republican support to pass the almost $59 billion measure to finance Obama’s additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and other programs. Twelve Republicans and 102 Democrats opposed it.
A prominent Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said congressional support could collapse next year if conservative Republicans withdraw their backing to make Obama look bad and if anti-war Democrats insist on a pullout.
“If, by December, we’re not showing some progress, we’re in trouble,” Graham told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And the question is, what is progress? Without some benchmarks and measurements, it’s going to be hard to sell to the American people a continued involvement in Afghanistan.”
Kandahar offensive slips
American officials had hoped to ramp up operations in the Kandahar area last spring. But the timetable slipped for numerous reasons, including public opposition within the city to stepped-up military operations and delays in getting enough trained Afghan troops in place.
In recent weeks, however, U.S. and Afghan troops have begun to challenge the Taliban in the lush Arghandab Valley and other districts around Kandahar. American troops are accelerating the training of Afghan police to provide security within the city itself.
The goal is to put an Afghan face on the security operation to counter Taliban allegations that the international troops are a foreign occupation force.
But the campaign faces major hurdles, some of them self-imposed.
Obama plans a review of the Afghan strategy at the end of the year and has pledged to begin withdrawing American troops in next July. …
U.S. officers in southern Afghanistan say villagers are reluctant to cooperate with the Americans and their Afghan partners because they fear the Taliban will take retribution against them once the Americans have gone. The villagers simply don’t trust the Afghan police to fill the security gap.
“There is nothing more tragic than watching beautiful theories being assaulted by gangs of ugly facts. It is time, however, to be far more realistic about the war in Afghanistan,” former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman wrote in June for the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “It may well still be winnable, but it is not going to be won by denying the risks, the complexity, and the time that any real hope of victory will take.”
May 2011: Kandahar offensive update
A member of the Afghan border police force fires towards Taliban fighters who are hidden at the Traffic Department building, which has smoke rising from its rooftop, in Kandahar on May 8, 2011. The Taliban unleashed a major assault on government buildings throughout Afghanistan’s main southern city, an attack that cast doubt on how successful the U.S.-led coalition has been in its nearly yearlong military campaign to establish security and stability in the former Taliban stronghold. (Photo credit: Allauddin Khan / AP)
FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — July 31, 2009
Karim Kadim / AP
One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that bombs exploded near five Shiite mosques in Baghdad, killing at least 29 people.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — July 31, 2008
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) at the Sartell SummerFest Parade, Sat., June 14, 2008, promising $2 gas with a “Drill Here, Drill Now” strategy of increasing supply. (Photo credit: St. Cloud Times)
Two-year retrospective: Two years ago today, on the 17th day of my 2008 campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, I took Bachmann to task for talking almost exclusively about energy issues such as the price of gasoline in her reelection campaign, while ignoring important national security concerns.
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