It appears that the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was convinced of the case for additional troops for Afghanistan during his trip to Kabul, and not only because of ُSen. Hillary Clinton’s call. According to the SecDef, who held a number of closed-doors meetings with top US commanders in Afghanistan, the grunts on the ground were able to make the case for additional troops especially on the eve of the Taliban’s perennial “spring offensive.” It is likely that the secretary heard similiar calls for added troops during his meetings with Afghan government officials who have all but wearied of the setbacks of 2006. (In 2006 insurgent attacks were up by 400% from 2005 levels, and jumped another 100% only during the month of December.)
It remains to be seen how the SecDef will in turn make the case to the American Commander in Chief, and what will the US joint chiefs of staff (who will study the request from commanders in Afghanistan) recommend. If the year 2007 is to prove any different for Afghanistan, renewed committment of troops and resources is a necessity. Much has changed since the post-Bonn lull that lasted from 2002-2005 and that gave everyone the impression that things were going quite well in Afghanistan – especially so as the situation in Iraq looked bleak by comparison. That 3-year window of opportunity was squandered by all parties – the government of Afghanistan, and the US and international presence- and now a fresh, reinvigorated push is needed to restore the country to a satisfactory homeostasis in terms of security and political stability.
If there is a saving grace, in the face of the resurgence of the Taliban and the lost opportunities for success, it is the resilience of the people of Afghanistan and their tireless committment to seeing things improve. That committment was on display yesterday, when two civilians prevented a truck bomber from detonating his 300 pounds of explosives in front of a US base in Kabul. Were it not for this, given the disappointing pace of reconstruction and the corruption and cynicism of the political elite, no one would be able to make even the self-serving comparisons with the situation in Iraq. Yet that resilience and patience is wearing out now -even by Afghanistan’s standards where civil war and the absence of government for decades has fostered very low expectations of what governments should do for their people. It remains to be seen how aware of this fact are the Afghan government officials, and by extension the US government. A telling sign would be whether upon Secretary Gates’s return, the US government considers sending more troops to Afghanistan. (Watch out for the 3rd and last segment of this post.)