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July 07, 2008

Tough times ahead for Afghanistan

Afghancasualties_4 We awoke this morning to the horrible news that a suicide car bomb detonated outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul has killed 41 people, and wounded as many as 150 more.

It was the deadliest bombing in the capital of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001--and the latest sign of a deteriorating security situation in the country that, along with the Pakistan tribal areas on its border, many consider to be the front line in the struggle against terrorism.

Last month was the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- 28 died there -- since American personnel entered the country in October 2001. President Bush last week announced he plans to send more troops there, and the Pentagon announced that 2,200 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit would have their current deployment in-country extended by 30 days.

The respected military analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies today released a briefing on Afghanistan (here's the PDF file link) that includes some charts, like the one above, that really give one pause. They show an up-tick in IED (Improvised Explosive Device) incidents, suicide bombings, and yes, U.S. casualties. One slide, based on U.N. data, shows expanding areas deemed to be "Extreme Risk/Hostile Environment." Those areas now make up a third of the country.

Cordesman's conclusions are that the conflict in Afghanistan is "armed nation-building, not counterinsurgency"; that it can't be won in Afghanistan alone, but is a regional struggle; and that the war of attrition can last 15 years or more. The enemy will win, he writes, if it can outlast NATO and the Afghan government.


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Warren Strobel

That's what the Afghan government is saying, or at least implying - some sort of Pakistani involvement. We'll see if any solid evidence emerges.

- Warren


I just spoke with a friend of mine doing work in Afghanistan and there's a lot of talk of the Indian embassy bombing having been possibly carried out by Pakistani operatives (although not necessarily with the Pakistani central government's blessing--more likely rogue security forces opposed to any Indian influence in Afghanistan whatsoever). If that's true, the "tough times" might have just gotten tougher with a new layer of conflict.

Warren Strobel

Jason - Thanks for the comment. This is a bit of a guess on my part, but it seems to me you can do counter-insurgency in a place where a nation-state (albeit perhaps a fragile one) exists. I'm thinking Philippines, Malaysia, Colombia to name just a few examples. "Armed nation-building" suggest that there's not much of a nation-state at all (Afghanistan).



So how is "armed nation-building" different from counter-insurgency? I think Cordesman is making a distinction where none exists.


More bad news... (no need to read the financial/biz section after reading this item).

Thanks for including the informative graph (depressing, but a helpful synopsis).

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

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