The Campaign Spot

Does Increasing Violence in Afghanistan Mean Problems? Or More Dead Taliban?

Barack Obama, during a lengthy interview with the Military Times:

If we have a situation in Afghanistan where we are seeing more and more violence in the eastern portion of Afghanistan, at a time when we’ve actually increased the forces down there and we’ve got some of the best battle-tested operations deployed there and we’re still seeing increases in violence, what that tells me is that we’ve got real problems.

The Washington Post, July 5:

U.S. commanders point out that the increases in attacks and casualties this year result in part from the advance of coalition and Afghan army forces into areas that previously were ceded to the Taliban. Each attempt by the enemy forces to seize an area, such as a Taliban move into a cluster of villages near Kandahar last month, results in a lopsided military victory for NATO. But the Taliban gains by fomenting a sense of insecurity that prevents reconstruction — its forces have attacked 43 schools in eastern Afghanistan since classes began in March — and by inflicting casualties that prompt disillusionment and pressure for withdrawal in NATO capitals.

“More and more violence” may not actually tell anyone that “we’ve got real problems.” It may merely reflect that less and less territory is ceded to the Taliban, and that more and more Coalition Forces are engaging the enemy. If your primary goal is to reduce violence, you could achieve that by concede vast swaths of the Afghani border and rural areas. Of course, that has its own obvious problems – a resurgent Taliban in Afghani territory.
As the Post editorial notes, part of the problem is that the Taliban regroups on the other side of the border. Cross-border strikes, as Obama suggested last year, may be worth the risk; then again, if word got out about them, they could inflame already-volatile Pakistani public opinion.

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