In testimony today before the House Armed Services Committee Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Michael Mullen said that he believes the present strategy in Afghanistan is not working, adding “I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan”. This is just the latest sign that a conflict long considered the “forgotten war” is returning to the forefront of American foreign policy.
Admiral Mullen assured that he was looking at a “new, more comprehensive” strategy for the region which would include enhanced foreign investment in Afghanistan’s infrastructure, non-military aid and further stepped up operations in Pakistan. With both Afghans and allies growing impatient with the seven year long conflict, Admiral Mullen conceded “Frankly, we are running out of time“.
The new emphasis on cross-border operations is unlikely to be well received in Pakistan after last week’s attack by US ground troops on a South Waziristan village. In fact, Pakistan’s General Kayani has already announced that foreign forces will not be allowed to operate inside of Pakistan.
And Admiral Mullen is unlikely to find friendlier ground for his plan on the Afghan side of the border, especially in the wake of last month’s US airstrike in Herat which killed at least 90 civilians. Rights groups have already been warning that the rising civilian death toll would create a backlash against US forces, and Afghan military spokesman Major-General Azimi also warned that anger with the airstrike killings is on the rise.
The Afghan government has also expressed distress at the attacks, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai saying last week that relations with NATO have been strained by the number of recent killings. The Afghan Council of Ministers has also said that it will be reviewing the presence of foreign forces in the country over the Herat strike.
The Pentagon has repeatedly called for an increase in the number of ground troops in Afghanistan. This is unlikely to happen, however, with the military already stretched thin by the Iraq surge and President Bush announcing that he will maintain the freeze on troop cuts in Iraq until the end of his term in office.
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