Saturday, June 28, 2008

Real News: Mixed Messages on Afghanistan

Graeme Smith, a reporter with The Globe & Mail in Afghanistan, talks about the apparent disconnect between grim assessments by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates about the lack of progress in the U.S.-led war and Afghanistan’s deep-rooted problems of violence, extremism, corruption and narcotics… and the contradictory efforts of the American State Department that is currently mounting press tours, “bringing international correspondents from around the world; flying them into eastern Afghanistan and telling them that things are going much better in the east than they are in the south and that perhaps the countries in that are operating in the south like Canada should be emulating what the Americans are doing in the east when I don’t think there’s any argument for it being a success at the moment.”

Smith also questions the now received wisdom that blames Pakistan for the current spike in violence in Afghanistan. “Even if you built a giant concrete wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there would still be a massive insurgency inside Afghanistan,” according to Smith. While blaming Pakistan is legitimate, Smith says, the fact remains that the insurgents the Canadians are fighting are native Afghans and the problem needs to be dealt with inside the country. Smith compares the Taliban’s latest tactics on the ground with that of a whipsaw: “Not a very strong piece of steel, but still capable of cutting down trees by sheer speed and flexibility.”

Update: I should have noted that the grim assessment by Defense Secretary Gates referred to above found that after nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan, the Taliban-led insurgency is flourishing and predictions are that insurgents are likely to accelerate their attacks and expand into new regions in northern and western regions of the country.

The Pentagon’s assessment came as U.S. casualties in Afghanistan rose to 23 in June, the second-deadliest month for American forces since the U.S. invaded weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Attacks using improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, rose 35 percent last year, reaching 2,616 attacks, according to the report, which provided no other measures of violence or data from previous years.