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Taliban gains ground in Afghanistan

August 10, 2009 13:12 IST
For months now they have been predicting this could happen -- now it has, say reporters Yochi Dreazen and Peter Spiegel of The Wall Street Journal.

The Taliban has gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, and the most striking consequence has been a monumental uptick in losses to American troops.

The reporters quote General Stanley McChrystal, who is running America's ground war in Afghanistan, as predicting that US casualties will remain high for months to come, even as he plans to change strategy by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like Kandahar, where the Taliban insurgency is at its strongest.

Such an escalation of troop strength is necessary, General McChrystal says, to better protect Afghan civilians from the Taliban's increasing violence and intimidation; this plays into a strategy aimed more at safeguarding the locals than on hunting down the Taliban.

The Obama administration is currently in the middle of a major Afghan build-up that is expected to push US troop levels to 68,000 by end 2009; 4,000 of these additional troops are slated to arrive shortly.

The danger, report Dreazen and Spiegel, is that the Taliban is increasingly moving into regions in the north and west that had been deemed safe even this time last year -- and that their attacks have increased in sophistication.

The immediate outcome is that July proved to be the bloodiest month of the eight-year war for US and British forces, with casualties nearing the 50 mark; 12 US troops have already been killed thus far in August.

In a war that is already costing the US $4 billion each month, General McChrystal is expected to push for at least 10,000 more troops in addition to the 21,000 the Obama administration had sanctioned and is now in the process of deploying.

The Wall Street Journal points out that such a request might be a tough sell, with senior officials in the administration saying they would prefer to wait and see what impact the 21,000 reinforcements have on the ground situation.

Another danger with rushing additional troops to the volatile region, the newspaper cites some officials as warning, is that the the American military footprint in Afghanistan is already too large, and if it continues to grow, locals will compare it with the earlier Russian occupation.

All of this plays out against the impending presidential election in Afghanistan, slated for August 20, and the near certainty that levels of violence will escalate as that day nears.

The Wall Street Journal reports that currently, the Taliban is tightening its already firm grip on Kandahar, and engaging American troops in a major battle in the neighbouring province of Helmand, centre of Afghanistan's drug trade. US officials suggest Helmand is a diversion, to occupy the US while the Taliban completes its occupation of Kandahar; to this end, General McChrystal is said to be planning to shift more US troops to Kandahar to help the Canadian forces currently responsible for security in the region.

However, he is not in a position to deflect forces from Helmand since he told The Wall Street Journal the US operation against the Taliban in that region is meant to disrupt the Taliban's lucrative drug operation that has been providing the finances for the insurgency.

rediff News Bureau