ATLANTA (FinalCall.com)–Officially, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over. But the U.S. death toll continues to rise as soldiers come under fire in both hot spots.
At Final Call press time, more than 45 U.S. soldiers had lost their lives in Iraq since the May 1 announcement by President George Bush that the combat phase in the war against the Muslim nation had ended and reconstruction of the war-torn country was now under way.
In Afghanistan, it is more of the same. The original battleground for the war against terrorism and the hunt for Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden now witnesses continued unraveling of the U.S.-protected government of President Hamid Karzai.
Days after the U.S. military said it had completed a successful operation to quell a June 16 insurgency in a region north of Baghdad, at least nine American soldiers were wounded in two separate incidents near the same area.
Military officials downplayed the severity of the fighting, but the number of wounded is among the highest for a single day since the official end to the major combat. The casualties in the besieged country continue to underscore the difficulty American troops face in rooting out Iraqi resistance.
Non-Iraqis continue to cross borders into Iraq to assist rebellions against U.S. occupation, but Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters June 18 that the idea of major, centralized resistance against U.S. troops is highly unlikely.
“There’s a little debate on that,” Mr. Rumsfeld said during the news conference. “I don’t know anyone who is persuaded and has a real strong conviction that there is anything approximating a national or a regional organization that is energizing and motivating these attacks. There’s undoubtedly small elements of 10, 12, 15, 20–some organization among 20 people. But if you’re thinking about large military formations or some sort of a network organizing something, I have not seen any intelligence to that effect,” he said.
U.S. forces admittedly are growing weary and Congress has demanded a more honest and detailed accounting of U.S. progress in the region from U.S. war hawks, and an assessment of coalition support.
A chief war hawk, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, told a House committee June 18 that the U.S. is seeking support to relieve coalition forces of some of their commitments in Iraq, stating that “we need help from our allies” and “we are actively seeking it.”
Testifying to the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Wolfowitz said that in coming weeks and months, the U.S. would see more and more contributions from other countries.
He explained that the United Kingdom and Poland have made public their intentions to lead a peacekeeping division staffed by their personnel and personnel of other coalition countries. Among those that have publicly indicated a willingness to participate are Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Denmark, Ukraine and Hungary.
Despite progress in stabilizing “some areas” of Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz cautioned that U.S. soldiers continue to “face an adaptive and determined enemy” that is “intent on killing Americans and Iraqis and disrupting the establishment of order in Iraqi society and the process of building a new and free country. We will eliminate those elements, but it will take time. How long, is something that is difficult, or indeed impossible, to predict.”
The return of the Taliban
Mr. Wolfowitz offered similar findings regarding the war against terrorism in Afghanistan that involves close to 10,000 U.S. military personnel.
“Afghanistan remains an ongoing threat to the war on terror,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. “The war ended with many local power brokers in control of provincial and local governments. Few of them have risen to the challenge of serving their people rather than their own interests,” he said in another interview.
In addition to continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, other deployments “consistent with U.S. defense strategy” were being sustained, Mr. Wolfowitz reported. They include deployments associated with the war on terrorism in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere; the defense of the United States homeland from attack; and the maintenance of a strong deterrent posture throughout Asia and other operations, including rotational deployments in the Balkans and Sinai.
“It’s hard to see a happy outcome here,” said Miriam Penderton, research fellow for the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington. “The belligerence of U.S. foreign policy creates ongoing crises and the doctrine of preemptive war suggests that we are going to be putting troops all over the world, which presumably means the re-institution of the draft. Because you have to ask, where are all of these troops going to come from?”
According to an Asian Times report, the deteriorating security situation, compounded by the return of a large number of former Afghan communist refugees to Afghanistan, has forced U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials into diplomatic dialogue with Taliban leaders, in an effort to devise a political solution to prevent the country from being further ripped apart.
On June 3, the Taliban regime claimed responsibility for killing four U.S. soldiers and injuring two others in a missile attack on a U.S. outpost in the Afghan state of Konar. A statement published by local newspapers in Peshawar, Pakistan, said the attack came in retaliation for a Taliban combat leader gunned down by U.S. troops the week before.
The statement, signed by a Taliban spokesman in Konar, asserted that resistance operations would go non-stop “against the foreign and proxy forces.”
In addition, the group reportedly launched a number of missiles on the post of the U.S. troops in the city of Asaadbad in Konar, but no causalities were reported.
Karzai threatens to quit
One of the most difficult tasks for President Karzai has been to assert control over the provincial rulers. He has threatened to quit if provincial governors did not hand over their revenue to the cash-strapped central government.
“Without greater support for the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai, security in Afghanistan will deteriorate further, prospects for economic reconstruction will dim, and Afghanistan will revert to warlord-dominated anarchy,” read a joint report from the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society titled, “Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace?”
The 24-page document concludes that a U.S. failure in Afghanistan could gravely erode America’s credibility around the world and mark a major defeat in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
To prevent this, the statement said, Washington should bolster its support of Mr. Karzai’s efforts toward security, peace and economic hope to the people of Afghanistan. The statement recommended three principal steps to achieve these goals: extending peacekeeping efforts beyond Kabul and accelerating the development of the Afghan National Army (ANA); increasing pressure on neighboring countries not to support warlords, while stepping up efforts to curb pro-Taliban remnants; and giving at least $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for each of the next five years.