As 2008 draws to a close, the rising Taliban force in Afghanistan is taken a backseat to more immediate concerns in the region and elsewhere. But the crisis in Afghanistan remains, indeed 2008 was the deadliest year of the seven year long war.
The US death toll was a record 151. Roadside bombings doubled. The Taliban’s influence has spread and the attacks are increasingly bold. The Taliban has a permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan now. Things are bad, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen predicts things will be even worse next year.
While military spokesmen speak of “advances,” it’s increasingly clear that the US is pinning its hopes on a surge, nearly doubling the number of troops on the ground, to stem the tide of failure that is washing over the mission. President-elect Obama seems poised to make Afghanistan the center of his foreign policy when he takes office next month.
But with seven years of fighting and little to show for it but death and destruction, both Afghanistan’s government and its citizens are increasingly discontented with the international forces. Between this and an increasingly perilous supply line, it seems unclear how much good an extra 20,000 combat troops could possibly be expected to do. That seems unlikely to stop the new administration from throwing more troops and money at the situation should the surge fail, however.