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Juan Cole, Informed Comment: 50 US & NATO Troops Killed in Afghanistan in Past Week

50 US & NATO Troops Killed in Afghanistan in Past Week
by Juan Cole, August 8, 2011

Another US helicopter got into trouble on Sunday, and had to make a hard landing in the eastern Paktia province, though no one aboard was hurt. It may have been forced down by Taliban fire.

Seven US & NATO troops have been killed in fighting in Afghanistan in the past 48 hours, on top of the 30 US soldiers, 7 Afghan troops and an interpreter who were killed when a Chinook helicopter went down, likely shot down by Taliban, in Wardak on Friday.

Two of those killed Sunday were French, and 7 French soldiers were wounded.

Also on Sunday, US troops recovering the crash wreckage in Wardak ran into heavy fire  from local Taliban and there was a clash near the site.

Altogether, 50 US & NATO troops have already been killed in August, and 383 have been killed this year.

No wonder that Afghanistan’s new US ambassador, Ryan Crocker, cautioned last week against a “rush for the exits,” as Tom Englehart noted. In fact, most NATO allies have run or are running for the exits, as it become increasingly clear that the Afghanistan effort is likely endless. Canada’s combat mission has ended, Holland is out, and France, Poland and Britain have announced plans to get out over the next three years. (For the current distribution of foreign troops in Afghanistan, see the ISAF web page, though it hasn’t removed the Canadian flag yet.)

The spike in troop deaths comes in the wake of an extremely successful Taliban campaign of assassination  in July. They killed the de facto ruler of Qandahar province, Ahmad Wali Karzai, the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai and a major power broker for the Kabul government. Then they attacked his funeral, as well, killing 4 people with a suicide bombing. Then they assassinated Jan Mohammad Khan, President Karzai’s chief official for tribal relations (i.e. he would have been trying to turn the Pashtun tribes against the Taliban), along with a member of parliament. Then on July 27, the mayor of Qandahar city, Ghulam Haider Hamidi, was assassinated by the Taliban.

Although the Afghanistan war receives little coverage in general, it is astonishing that there has been no major piece in an American news journal that points out that the Taliban have wiped out the pro-Karzai power elite of Qandahar in the past month and are killing US troops in record numbers.

All these Taliban advances are occurring in the wake of the major US counter-insurgency campaign in Qandahar province, Operation Hamkari [‘Working Together’] of fall 2010.

Counter-insurgency was never very likely to succeed in Afghanistan, given the size of the country and its problems, and given the relatively small amount of resources committed to it by Washington. One measure of whether David Petraeus, the incoming head of the CIA, is a straight shooter will be whether he is able to report to his boss that the strategy was flawed even though he was an architect of it.

Since Obama is taking out some 30,000 troops over the next year, the window for counter-insurgency is closing (it is troop-intensive).

In fact, the US and NATO are increasingly simply withdrawing from whole provinces and handing them over to Karzai’s army and police, ready or not. As the DoD say last week:

‘ Mehtar lam is one of seven areas being turned over to Afghan security forces in ceremonies around the country this week, including the provinces of Bamyan, Panjshir and Kabul (except for the Surobi District), and the cities of Herat in the west, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, Lashkar Gah in the country’s southern Helmand Province. ‘

Me, I should have thought the turnover of major places like Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i Sharif and Lashkar Gah to the Karzai security forces would have been headline news. But not only do few in the US seem to care about the news from the Afghanistan front, the appetite of the US public to prosecute the struggle has almost disappeared, given the poor economy, debt problems, the killing of Bin Laden, and the corrupt character of the Karzai government. It is clear that gradually, the lights are being turned off on the forgotten war, which is so forgotten that few in the US (the major power prosecuting the war) are even noticing that they are being extinguished.


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