November 4, 2006

For several years, the sole foreign policy success of the Bush administration was considered by many -- even including many Bush critics -- to be the relatively easy overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet as David Rohde and Jim Risen report in today's New York Times, a new CIA assessment makes clear that our Afghanistan project is in danger of full-scale collapse.

The Karzai government has virtually no control of anything outside of Kabul, and it never did. The government is widely perceived to be corrupt and, worse, far too weak to do anything about a resurgent Taliban. Taliban attacks continue to increase in both frequency and ferocity, and more American troops have died in Afghanistan this year already than in all of last year. And the Afghan police force is so corrupt that it provides virtually no security anywhere, and both it and the army basically need to be re-built from scratch.

To have any chance for stabilizing that country and achieving anything positive, a massive and long-term commitment of both troops and resources are needed -- far more than we have been willing to devote thus far:

The assessment, which was conducted before Mr. Karzai’s visit to Washington in late September, echoes the frustration that has gathered force in Afghanistan since the spring, and American officials in Washington and Kabul are expressing increasingly dire warnings regarding the situation here. Ronald E. Neumann, the American ambassador in Kabul, said in a recent interview that the United States faced “stark choices” in Afghanistan. Averting failure, he said, would take “multiple years” and “multiple billions.”

“We’re going to have to stay at it,” he said. “Or we’re going to fail and the country will fall apart again.”

Despite all of that, the Bush administration -- by necessity -- has "reduced financing for Afghanistan by 30 percent and proposed the withdrawal of up to 3,000 American troops." Put another way, preventing Afghanistan from collapsing into chaos and allowing a full return of the Taliban will require vast resources and troops which we do not have. That we chose to invade and occupy Iraq with 140,000 troops, at a cost of $8 billion per month, is the obvious reason why we are incapable of sustaining the necessary commitment. Chaos in Afghanistan -- or, worse, a full-scale return of Taliban rule -- may be yet another price to be paid for the invasion of Iraq, the single worst strategic disaster in our nation's history.

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