Death toll, prison break in Afghanistan troubling
First came the revelation from Defense Secretary Robert Gates that last month, more American and allied soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan than in Iraq. It has never happened before.
Then came the sophisticated assault by Taliban militants on a prison in Kandahar that resulted in more than 800 inmates escaping, including 390 Taliban prisoners.
Taken together, the two developments are a stark reminder that the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse by the day and that the Taliban, which ruled the country before being ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, has regrouped and is now a force to contend with.
The Taliban, which adheres to Sharia, or religious law, went into hiding in the mountain region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, Taliban militants have found a safe haven in many Pakistani provinces in the remote region.
A democratically elected government, under the auspices of the U.S. and its allies, is in power in Kabul, but the progress that has been made in changing the political and social climate is being undermined by the stepped up violence by Taliban fighters.
There is no doubt that they have taken advantage of the war in Iraq, which was launched by President Bush, with the backing of Congress and the United Nations, as part of his global war on terrorism. The U.S.-led coalition was made up of troops from many countries, including American soldiers who had been ensuring the stability of Afghanistan.
By redeploying those soldiers, the U.S. left the government of President Hamid Karzai vulnerable because other nations failed to fill the void.
Indeed, several have withdrawn their troops, while the Bush administration has attempted to bolster America’s presence.
President Bush has been trying, with limited success, to get some NATO members to send more soldiers to Afghanistan and to drop restrictions of military action.
All 25 NATO members have troops, but only a handful are involved in trying to root out the Taliban in the southern part of the country.
The result: the May death toll of 19 — 14 Americans and five from allied forces. By comparison, 15 U.S. and two allied troops were killed in action in Iraq last month.
But the Taliban attack on the prison in Kandahar is the most dramatic illustration of just how tenuous the situation in Afghanistan has become. .
It demands an assessment by the Karzai government and the U.S. and its allies of the security conditions in Afghanistan. It is evident that even increasing the number of American soldiers is not a guarantee of peace.
The Taliban has had years to regroup and to build alliances with Islamic extremists in the country, in Pakistan and around the world. Its influence is also spreading through Iraq.
Let us not forget the reason for the war in Afghanistan: In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America’s homeland — more than 3,000 people were killed — intelligence agencies found that the terrorists were affiliated with al-Qaida, which had training camps in Afghanistan. Indeed, the organization’s leader, Osama bin Laden, had been provided a safe haven by the Taliban rulers.
The U.S.-led invasion not only ousted the Islamic government, but forced bin Laden and members of his inner circle to go into hiding in the mountains.
However, before coalition forces could estab lish a dragnet for the al-Qaida leaders, the war in Iraq was launched.
Thus, today, bin Laden is still alive, al-Qaida cells throughout the world continue to plan terrorist attacks, and Taliban militants have targeted the government of Hamid Karzai.
There is cause for concern.