September 2, 2007
Afghan Police Are Set Back as Taliban Adapt
By DAVID ROHDE
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Aug. 26 — Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs, Afghan officials say.
A year after Canadian and American forces drove hundreds of Taliban fighters from the area, the Panjwai and Zhare districts southwest of Kandahar, the rebels are back and have adopted new tactics. Carrying out guerrilla attacks after NATO troops partly withdrew in July, they overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the south’s largest city.
The setback is part of a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer. NATO and Afghan Army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than they did last summer.
Declaring success has its price, which is almost always paid by the native residents. We're pushing water in both Iraq and Afghanistan and the level of the liquid doesn't move an inch. There is a case to be made that the earliest withdrawel will be the most humane to the remaining population. If withdrawing in a year (or two or five) made a substantive difference in the chaos that will follow, there would be an argument. It seems that is not the case and the various factors striving for advantage (including a minute al-Qaeda contingent) seem content to wait us out and use us as well to their purpose. The question is not how we leave, but when. The larger question is who takes the rap for departing. This president, the one who got us in trouble, just like in his old bad drug and alcohol days, isn't about to be caught holding the bag.