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Home > News > Report

Afghanistan: 5 years in, fear of failure

Can Merey in New Delhi/Kabul | October 06, 2006 12:17 IST

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It's been five years since Afghanistan became the first target in the international war on terrorism.

"Now the Taliban will pay the price," US President George W Bush said during a television speech on October 7, 2001, the day American and British bombs began falling on the country. "Peace and freedom will prevail."

Now, however, concern is growing in the West that the Afghan war might fail after all.

The Taliban, Afghanistan's fundamentalist Islamic regime, paid the price by being ousted from power, but they have long since begun to repay the West through a strategy that is a mixture of guerrilla attacks and bombings.

The number of suicide bombings, which had before been practically unknown in Afghanistan, has risen sharply to almost 60 this year. Apart from the suicide bombers themselves, about 170 Afghans and 13 foreign soldiers have lost their lives in these attacks so far in 2006.

Since the end of 2001, about 500 foreign soldiers have died while on military assignment, but this year's toll has been far more than any preceding year, and foreign troops are looking back at the bloodiest summer they have seen since the Taliban's ouster.

Afghanistan's southern region, which hitherto had been neglected by the international community, has especially experienced heavy fighting this year, with many of the clashes being drawn out over several days.

It was in this region where international troops in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led International Security Assistance Force took over from US-led coalition forces at the end of July.

The ISAF was determined to change the deteriorating situation there by forcibly displacing Taliban fighters and then initiating a faster and more visible rebuilding of the secured countryside.

Through this strategy, the international community intended to conquer the hearts and minds of the southern Afghan people after many of them in frustration had again begun to support the Taliban.

However, the implementation of the concept began with little promise as hundreds of Taliban and many ISAF troops died in bitter fighting. ISAF casualties were particularly heavy among the British and Canadian contingents.

British Defence Secretary Des Browne recently admitted that his country and NATO underestimated the Taliban's strength in southern Afghanistan.

"We do have to accept that it's been even harder than we expected," he said.

When British troops were sent into the south in June, then defence secretary John Reid still voiced hope that his soldiers could "leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot."

Tens of thousands of rounds later, however, NATO is confronted not only with these hopes shattered but also by a crucial test: Important contributors of troops like Germany want to avoid sending their soldiers into the south while Britain and Canada have no intention of carrying their burden alone.

Germany's government already announced days ago that it wanted its troops to remain in Kabul and the comparatively safe northern part of the country.

This decision prompted the British newspaper The Guardian to write in an embittered editorial that countries like Germany, France and Italy "have sent troops to Afghanistan not to fight, but to play out a charade of solidarity."

NATO's intervention in Afghanistan "has been a disaster, but withdrawal would send the country back to the dark ages," the newspaper wrote.

The confused situation naturally caused joy among the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.

"This summer, Allah be praised, is burning the crusaders in Afghanistan with its flames as they were previously warned by the commander of the faithful, (Taliban leader) Mullah Muhammad Omar, may Allah protect him," said Al Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video message on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

He cited the example of William Brydon, the sole British survivor of a battle between British and Afghan forces in 1842, threatening, "Dr Brydon will not return this time to India because his body will be thrown out to the dogs in Afghanistan."


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