In The New York Review of Books, Ahmed Rashid sifts through the conflicting reports of U.S. forces' success in Afghanistan and the distinct perspectives of the many players involved in the Afghan conflict.
For the 100,000 American forces, 40,000 NATO troops, and their commander, General David Petraeus, it’s Year One of the Surge in Afghanistan. For many Afghans it’s Year Nine of the US Occupation—or, to be kind, Year Nine of the US-led war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
US officers say that the war is finally on the right footing, with enough men and equipment to hammer the Taliban in their bases in the south. For US and European diplomats there are larger imponderables. The strategic policy review released by President Obama on December 16 is extremely cautious, noting that recent gains in the south remain “reversible.” The report says the strategy “is setting the conditions” to withdraw a small number of US troops in July 2011, but it does not specify how many of the 100,000 American forces might leave. A Western ambassador posed the problem to me clearly: “Are we creating a sustainable government, are we getting the politics right, will there be an Afghan army and civil service to take over when we leave?”
In Kabul the foreigners breathe a little easier after several months with no suicide attacks. Kabulis say that the protective blast walls and concrete barriers that line the streets are now twenty feet high, suffocating them and eating up their road and living space.