An Afghan Mess

War progress: not much


After seven years of U.S. occupation, most of Afghanistan continues to be a security mess, according to a November report from the Pentagon.

Two parts of southern Afghanistan were seen as having made security progress: the Kandahar and Helmond provinces, currently hosting tens of thousands of American troops. But the occupiers' partial success in squeezing Taliban out of those areas has pushed them to the north and west. Total violent incidents—"kinetic events," in the report's parlance—were up 65 percent in the third quarter of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. Meanwhile, the Taliban will likely "retain operational momentum in some areas" as long as they can hide and regroup in Iran and Pakistan.

The share of Afghans who think their security situation is bad, now 20 percent, is higher than it has been as long as these reports have been issued at Congress's order, since September 2008. The report also notes "an almost 7 percent decline in Afghans' confidence in their government's ability to deliver reliable formal justice" since the last report.

The previous bi-yearly report from the Pentagon said the security situation continued to "deteriorate," and this new one says that is "relatively unchanged." Fear of a Taliban takeover isn't the sole reason insurgency support hasn't been shrinking; the report also notes that the corruption of the U.S.-backed Karzai government "remains a key reason for people supporting the insurgency."

All that may sound like an argument for ending the war. But the Pentagon implies that we could improve matters by declaring we never intend to leave: Lots of the security troubles, the study claims, can be blamed on a Taliban emboldened by the thought that the Americans are prepared to exit and an Afghan populace afraid to buck the Taliban for that same reason. The latest date for U.S. and allied troops to hand over security to the Afghan government has been pushed back to 2014.