That other war

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

October 5, 2005

BOMBINGS, SHOOTINGS AND VIOLENT deaths continue in Afghanistan, site of the first post-9/11 American war. Although the campaign in Afghanistan became the "other" conflict once the invasion of Iraq began, the country remains dangerous and uncertain, and international cooperation there is as crucial as ever.

Last week, a suicide bomber killed nine people and injured more than two dozen others in the Afghan capital of Kabul, demonstrating again that reconstruction and successful elections have not ended the threat from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The explosion near Afghan troops boarding buses was an ominous echo of suicide attacks in Iraq. It occurred a week after President Hamid Karzai claimed that his country no longer was the source of terrorist threats.

Karzai was overly optimistic. Afghanistan may not be the source, but terror still plagues the country.

Kabul has largely escaped violent attacks. The south and east of the country are more dangerous. In June, a suicide bomber in a mosque in the southern city of Kandahar killed about 20 people. Since then, insurgents have intensified roadside attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces, using increasingly sophisticated bombs.

Last week's attack on Afghan soldiers represents a strike against one of the country's success stories. Since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, American trainers have built the army into a force of more than 30,000 men, many of them veterans of the warlord armies that battled first the Soviets, then each other, then the Taliban. These troops provided security during last month's parliamentary election.

But the army has not been able to stop Taliban and Al Qaeda attacks. This year, more than 80 U.S. servicemen have been killed in Afghanistan, the deadliest year since the 2001 invasion.

The Government Accountability Office reported in July that a worsening security situation threatens U.S. goals to help Afghans build a stable country. The GAO said that in the fiscal year 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development proposed rehabilitating or building 286 schools. But because of "poor contractor performance and security problems," it completed only a tiny fraction of that goal.

A NATO official said Tuesday that the alliance would send 6,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year, making its total 15,000 as it expands its patrols to the south, where many Taliban fighters are concentrated. The United States has about 18,000 troops in the country.

The hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be easier if Pakistan stepped up its own pursuit of terrorists. Afghan officials have charged that insurgents are being trained in camps in Pakistan and easily cross the border to launch attacks. On a visit to Kabul last week, National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley said Afghanistan, the U.S. and Pakistan need to work more closely together in the war on terrorism, sharing intelligence and undertaking joint action.

Hadley wasn't wrong. But he might have singled out Pakistan for special attention. Pakistan announced Tuesday that it had arrested the Taliban's principal spokesman, months after the U.S. ambassador questioned Islamabad's inability to find him and other Taliban figures. Pakistan's episodic enthusiasm for hunting down the Taliban forces it assisted before 9/11 is a danger to U.S., NATO and Afghan troops. Washington needs to keep the pressure on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to do more in the fight against terrorists.