It`s go-for-broke time on 9th anniversary of war

The war in Afghan enters its 10th year tomorrow with key players hedging their bets.

Updated: Oct 06, 2010, 23:03 PM IST

Kabul: The war in Afghanistan enters its
10th year tomorrow with key players hedging their bets,
uncertain whether the Obama administration is prepared to stay
for the long haul, move quickly to exit an increasingly
unpopular conflict, or something in between.

Fearing that his Western allies may in the end abandon
him, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has started to prepare his
nation for a withdrawal of international forces by shoring up
relations with neighbouring Pakistan and reaching out to
insurgents interested in reconciliation.

Pakistan, America`s nominal ally, says it`s fighting
insurgents. But it still tolerates al-Qaida and Afghan Taliban
militants hiding out on its soil _ out of reach of US-led NATO
ground forces.

There have been other important junctures, but this
ninth anniversary is proving decisive. It`s go-for-broke time
in Afghanistan.

Public support for the war is slipping in the United
States and Western Europe. Already, the Netherlands has pulled
out its troops, the first NATO country to do so. The Canadians
leave next.

Patience is running out here as well. Afghans are
tired of the violence, increasingly resentful of foreign
forces. Many wonder why their quality of life has not markedly
improved when their nation has been awash in billions of
dollars of foreign aid.

"NATO is here and they say they are fighting
terrorism, and this is the 10th year and there is no result
yet," Karzai said in an emotional speech last week. "Our sons
cannot go to school because of bombs and suicide attacks."

All this is very different from the near universal
international support the Bush administration enjoyed when it
launched attacks on October 7, 2001.

The war was aimed at toppling the Taliban from power
because they harbored Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida
leaders responsible for the stunning strikes on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier.

The hardline Islamic regime, which repressed women,
banned music and held public executions for disloyal actions,
collapsed within two months.

But looking back at the first years of the war, the
effort was underfunded from the start. When the Bush
administration`s attention shifted to Iraq in 2003, the
Taliban began to regroup.

After several years of relative calm and safety, the
situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate around 2006. The
Taliban have steadily gained strength since then. And bin
Laden remains alive.

President Barack Obama ramped up the war this year,
sending tens of thousands more troops. Casualties are running
at their highest levels since 2001, when the Taliban were
overthrown without a single American combat death. The US death toll in July was 66, setting a monthly
record, to date, about 2,000 NATO troops have died in the
conflict, including more than 1,220 American service men and
women.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in June that
the US and its NATO partners have to show progress before the
end of this year or face a decline in public support for the
war.

There`s plenty of frustration at the White House and
in the US Congress too. In August, when Sen. John Kerry,
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited
Kabul, he bluntly stated that if the Karzai government didn`t
clean up corruption, it was going to be hard "to look American
families in the eye and say, `Hey that`s something worth dying
for."

On the battlefield, NATO`s top commander, Gen. David
Petraeus, is banking on his plan to protect heavily populated
areas, rout the Taliban from their strongholds and rush in
better governance and development aid to win the Afghans`
loyalty away from the Taliban.

In February, NATO launched an offensive in Helmand
province, the largest military operation in Afghanistan since
the 2001 invasion.

Nearly eight months after US forces mounted a
high-profile assault that ended Taliban control of the rural
town of Marjah, US Marines there are still clearing it. There
are signs that governance is improving, though troops still
face daily gunbattles and an entrenched insurgency that shows
no signs of easing soon.

Afghan and international forces now are ramping up
security in neighbouring Kandahar province where the Taliban
insurgency was born.

Fighting in and around the nation`s largest city in
the south has been intense as coalition forces push into areas
long held by insurgents. Failure in Kandahar would be a major
setback for the NATO force.

"We`re still fighting the fight," US Army Capt. Nick
Stout, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division`s
1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, said in Senjeray,
capital of Zhari district northeast of Kandahar city.

"It kind of begs the question: What is it? What`s the
answer?" he said at a joint U.S.-Afghan outpost near Kandahar.

"America alone is not the answer to stopping" the
insurgency, said the 27-year-old Stout, who wasn`t old enough
to order a drink in his home of Lake Orion, Mich., when the
war began.

Commanders like Stout believe the war will be won only
if Afghan civilians start supporting the troops. And, they
say, the only way that will happen is if the forces can
provide enough security to allow people to break free of the
fear and intimidation of Taliban threats.

In some places, residents don`t even want to be seen
talking to US forces for fear of Taliban reprisals.

PTI

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