Afghanistan, Pakistan: already at war?
Barack Obama proposes the US deploy 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight insurgents even as he pledges to remove troops from Iraq, plugging the proposal in a New York Times op-ed, "My Plan for Iraq." (NYT, July 14) Meanwhile, relations are fast deteriorating between Afghanistan and key US ally Pakistan. In an official statement calling Pakistan's security forces the "world's biggest producers of terrorism and extremism," Afghanistan announced it is suspending participation in three meetings with Pakistani officials scheduled for the next few weeks. Afghanistan charged Islamabad with "direct interference in its internal affairs." (Newsday, July 16)
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry responded with a statement accusing Afghanistan of creating an "artificial crisis" between the two countries, adding: "Such baseless accusations serve no purpose other than vitiating the bilateral atmosphere." (Bloomberg, July 16)
On July 13, more than 100 insurgents breached a US outpost at Wanat in Kunar province, near the Pakistan border, killing nine US troops in hours of fierce fighting. The insurgents used rocket propelled grenades and homemade mortars to bombard the base, close to Pakistan's border, from several sides. Fighting also raged in Helmand province, where US forces said 40 insurgents had been killed in 24 hours. (BBC, July 14)
NATO announced two days after the battle it has abandoned the outpost, which it had established five days before it was attacked. "We are confirming that we have vacated our combat outpost at Wanat," said NATO spokesman Mark Laity. (The Australian, July 16) The BBC World Service reports that the Taliban now claim to be in control of the outpost.
Attacks in eastern Afghanistan are up 40% this year, according to US military sources. June was the deadliest month for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. US fatalities in Afghanistan in both May and June topped those in Iraq. Intelligence reports maintain foreign militants are pouring into Afghanistan to join the insurgency, as they did in Iraq two years ago.
"Foreign fighters do make a difference, and it's important to note their increase and the role they play, particularly in correlation to al-Qaeda," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "On the other hand, characterizing the problem in Afghanistan as driven by foreign fighters does not track with evidence from the ground." But Cordesman places greater weight with the role of militants based just across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas, saying the war is now essentially "an Afghanistan-Pakistan conflict." (CSM, July 16)