A 110-page report, two years ago, by the Senlis Council, a Brussels-based think tank, reported that the Taliban’s resurgence had reclaimed 54% of Afghanistan. At that time, there was a NATO force of approximately 60,000 deployed there, of which about 30,000 were U.S. troops. The report estimated that 20,000 more were needed to turn the tide of the war. .
Six days ago, Katie Couric reported that the Taliban now controls 80% of the country. Currently, there is an expanding NATO force that will reach nearly 100,000 by the end of the year, including 68,000 U.S. troops. The commander on the ground, General Stanley A. McChrystal, now estimates that 40,000 more are needed to turn the tide of the war.
So far, there can be no conclusion drawn that the larger NATO deployments have led to a weaker Taliban. Indeed, as the acknowledged size of the NATO force has surged by what will soon be 63% this year, the territory controlled by the Taliban has surged as well.
Over the past few months, for the first time in the eight-year war, the insurgency has taken control of the country’s northern areas to the point that the integrity of a critical supply line is now seriously threatened. And, in recent weeks, militants have succeeded in forcing NATO to begin withdrawing its forces from its forward operating bases near the Pakistan border, a move described by the Pentagon as a “repositioning.”
The International Council on Security and Development describes the current situation as a deepening crisis with “substantial Taliban activity in at least 97% of the country.”
At the same time, the NATO coalition appears to be weakening. Switzerland, South Korea and Serbia have withdrawn their troops while Canada and the Netherlands have announced the schedule for their own withdrawals. Public opinion for the war is also falling in other European nations, particularly in the United Kingdom and Germany.
President Obama is currently considering General McChrystal’s recommended troop increase and he has so far ruled out dramatically cutting the size of our force. However, his final decision may be awaiting word from Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission relating to the validity of the recent, contested election which appeared to have given President Hamid Karzai the majority he needed to win reelection without a runoff.
Three days ago it was announced that Obama and his top advisors were leaning towards the conclusion that Al Qaeda is a greater threat than the Taliban. Whether this will be translated into a strategy relative to our troop strength remains to be seen. Key Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t waiting to make their feelings known, however. On Thursday, the chairman as well as a key member of the House Appropriations Committee warned that a troop buildup would be met with severe opposition that could include a limitation on the funds that would be needed.
On the other hand, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Monday that the failure to send more troops would lead to additional deaths. However, the facts are that the surge in Iraq was accompanied by a 10% increase in American troop deaths and the surge so far this year in Afghanistan has brought with it a 61% increase in U.S. military fatalities through September.
Last week, the Department of Defense released the obituaries of 15 military personnel killed in Afghanistan, ranging in age from 21 to 41. Total U.S. deaths there now amount to 872, according to icasualties.org.
The Pentagon also released the obituaries of two soldiers, 48 and 49, who were killed in Iraq. One of the deaths was categorized as non-combat-related, and the other involved a mortar or rocket attack on a military camp in Baghdad. The above website reports that total U.S. deaths in Iraq now stand at 4,349.