by Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, March 30, 2009
After seven long years in which it seemed a sideshow to the bigger conflict in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical point. The US must now choose how far it will become further embroiled in a messy conflict which affects its relations with Pakistan, India and the wider Middle East including Iran. At a moment when the world is convulsed by the worst economic disaster since 1929, Washington will have to decide if it really wants to invest time, money, military and political resources in beating back the ragged bands of Taliban who increasingly control southern Afghanistan.
At the end of last year, the White House was talking about repeating what was deemed to have been the success of the “surge” in Iraq. Some 30,000 extra US troops were sent to Iraq pursuing more aggressive tactics and the Sunni Arab insurgency seemed to wind down soon after. But the real turning point in Iraq was probably the defeat of the Sunni Arabs by the Shia. Nothing of this sort is likely to undermine the Taliban in Afghanistan just as their guerrilla attacks are inflicting more casualties than ever.
For a long time, the Afghan war seemed confined to one country. But in the past year there has been cross-infection between a whole series of crises, from the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir to the Islamic fundamentalist takeover of the Swat valley west of Islamabad. The political temperature has been rising and the seriousness of what was happening was only slowly appreciated in Washington.
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