Thursday, October 15, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor - To Beat the Taliban, Fight From Afar -

Op-Ed Contributor - To Beat the Taliban, Fight From Afar -

In 2001, the United States toppled the Taliban and kicked Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan with just a few thousand of its own troops, primarily through the combination of American air power and local ground forces from the Northern Alliance. Then, for the next several years, the United States and NATO modestly increased their footprint to about 20,000 troops, mainly limiting the mission to guarding Kabul, the capital. Up until 2004, there was little terrorism in Afghanistan and little sense that things were deteriorating.

Then, in 2005, the United States and NATO began to systematically extend their military presence across Afghanistan. The goals were to defeat the tiny insurgency that did exist at the time, eradicate poppy crops and encourage local support for the central government. Western forces were deployed in all major regions, including the Pashtun areas in the south and east, and today have ballooned to more than 100,000 troops.

As Western occupation grew, the use of the two most worrisome forms of terrorism in Afghanistan — suicide attacks and homemade bombs — escalated in parallel. There were no recorded suicide attacks in Afghanistan before 2001. According to data I have collected, in the immediate aftermath of America’s conquest, the nation experienced only a small number: none in 2002, two in 2003, five in 2004 and nine in 2005.

But in 2006, suicide attacks began to increase by an order of magnitude — with 97 in 2006, 142 in 2007, 148 in 2008 and more than 60 in the first half of 2009. Moreover, the overwhelming percentage of the suicide attacks (80 percent) has been against United States and allied troops or their bases rather than Afghan civilians, and nearly all (95 percent) carried out by Afghans.