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Despite such high-minded intentions, recent events have demonstrated a distressing ability by the Taliban to penetrate ostensibly secure facilities and carry out several successful high-profile attacks. On May 28, a suicide bomber killed northern Afghanistan’s top police commander, Gen. Mohammed Daoud, provincial police chief Shah Jehan Noori, and two German soldiers when he was able to infiltrate a high-level meeting in Taloqan, Takhar province. A German NATO commander in northern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Markus Kneip, was seriously wounded as well.
On July 22nd, Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was gunned down by a close associate at his home in Kandahar. A prominent cleric was killed at his funeral by a turban bomber. The mayor of Kandahar, Ghulam Haider Hamidi, was killed five days later by another turban bomber, and Karzai inner-circle member Jan Mohammad Khan, a presidential adviser on tribal issues and a former governor of Uruzgan province, was also gunned down in July.
On September 10th, 77 NATO troops were wounded in a truck bomb attack on a coalition base. Two Afghan civilians were killed and another 25 were wounded. On September 13th, a coordinated Taliban attack in Kabul against the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters lasted for more than 20 hours. In that incident, 16 Afghans were killed, including five police officers and 11 civilians, more than half of whom were children, and 23 others were wounded. It was the third significant attack in four months in the capital city, including a twin car bomb attack on a British cultural agency, killing 8 in August, and a suicide bomb assault on the heavily guarded Inter-Continental hotel last June, where 18 people lost their lives.
Many of these attacks have been blamed by both Afghan and U.S. authorities on Taliban factions in northwestern Pakistan known as the Haqqani network, which is allegedly supported by members of Pakistan’s security forces. Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik leader who lost to Karzai in the 2009 election, called Rabbani’s death a “big loss for all Afghan people.” Yet he has been critical of the attempt by the current government to reconcile with the Taliban, warning that “we should recognize and know our enemy from lower ranks up to the top officials of the country because by any means, by any way, they are trying to kill us and eliminate all high-ranking officials and jihadi leaders.”
Yet Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker from Kabul, visibly shaken as she stood outside Rabbani’s house, disagreed. “We don’t want the whole peace process to get stuck,” she said. “We have to continue, we have to.”
Do we have to continue? “We” is a loaded word. Ten years after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan to root out the Taliban and deny al-Qaeda a base of operations, it seems almost surreal that eight-in-ten Americans once supported that effort. Yet what was it, exactly, the American public supported? Certainly, in the wake of the 9/11, taking it to the perpetrators of that attack was eminently reasonable. But the original military campaign was over in nine weeks. Since then, a counter-insurgency comprised of nation-building has not only made victory impossible, but impossible to define. And as a result, support for the war has dropped precipitously: 58 percent of Americans no longer believe we should be involved.
Perhaps if we prosecuted war as we once did, victory in the cauldron of cultural pathologies and inexorable Islamic jihad that is Afghanistan might be possible. But as long as “winning” is about winning “hearts and minds,” as opposed to destroying the enemy’s will to continue, we remain in a purgatory of our own making. It is a purgatory where the clarity and purpose of our invasion in 2001 has given way to the idea that, somehow, we can split the difference between civilization and barbarity. Maybe the Afghans have to negotiate with Taliban thugs, but we don’t.
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