By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008
NATO forces in Afghanistan are in a "strategic stalemate," as Taliban insurgents expand their control of sparsely populated areas and as the central government fails to carry out vital reforms and reconstruction, according to an independent assessment released yesterday by NATO's former commander.
"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," said the report by the Atlantic Council of the United States, chaired by retired Gen. James L. Jones, who until the summer of 2006 served as the supreme allied commander of NATO.
"Afghanistan remains a failing state. It could become a failed state," warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring.
The Atlantic Council report was one of two strongly worded assessments of the war in Afghanistan -- both led by Jones -- released at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday. The second was by the Afghanistan Study Group, co-chaired by Jones and Thomas R. Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and other nations.
Jones said several steps are needed to "regain the momentum that appears to have been lost" in Afghanistan: a comprehensive campaign plan that integrates security and reconstruction work; the appointment of a United Nations High Commissioner to coordinate international efforts; and a new regional approach to stabilizing Afghanistan that would include conferences with neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
Progress in Afghanistan "is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country," said the report by the Afghanistan Study Group, created by the Center for the Study of the Presidency, which was also involved with the Iraq Study Group.
"The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid," the report said. It highlighted the lack of a clear strategy needed to "fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans."
The study group said the United States should "decouple" Iraq and Afghanistan to establish a clear distinction between the funding and programs underway in the countries, which, it said, face different problems. It also called on Washington to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan.
Violence has risen 27 percent in Afghanistan in the past year, with a 39 percent increase in attacks in the nation's eastern portion -- where most U.S. troops operate -- and a 60 percent surge in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban resurgence has been strongest.
Suicide bombings rose to 140 in 2007, compared with five between 2001 and 2005, according to official figures. U.S. and other foreign troop losses -- as well as Afghan civilian casualties -- reached the highest level since the U.S.-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.
Amid the rising violence, the Pentagon announced this month that it would deploy 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan to help counter the expected Taliban offensive.