KABUL, Afghanistan: Insurgents beheaded 17 people at a party in a Taliban-controlled area, and an Afghan soldier gunned down two U.S. troops, bringing the two-day death toll Monday to about 30.
Near-daily attacks by militants and increasingly frequent deadly violence against NATO troops by their Afghan allies highlight an embarrassing failure of Western policy: After nearly 12 years of military intervention, the country is not pacified. Once the United States and other countries pull out their troops, chaos seems almost certain to return and Taliban domination in large parts of the country is hardly implausible.
The beheadings occurred in southern Helmand, the same province where more than 100 insurgents attacked an Afghan army checkpoint and killed 10 soldiers.
Helmand was the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s surge, when he ordered 33,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help the military with a counterinsurgency plan. That plan hoped to turn the tide in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar and establish the governmental institutions that would allow the Afghan government to take control of the Taliban heartland.
Two years later, however, Helmand is still so lawless that Afghan government officials couldn’t even go to the Taliban-controlled town where the beheadings were reported. Many Afghans in the south, the Taliban’s birthplace and the home of the country’s Pashtun-speaking population, are leery of a government that many consider to be corrupt and ineffective.
The problem is compounded by a rapid reduction in American and international aid, which fueled most of the growth in the south in recent years. Afghanistan, one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, has received nearly $60 billion in civilian aid since 2002. Now it stands to receive $16 billion, or about $4 billion a year, in the next four years. By comparison, the U.S. alone spent that much in 2010.
Analysts also say that a public worn down by a war that began just a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks no longer cares about Afghanistan, and that the war has slipped off the radar screens and is now considered by many to be over.
“The problem with this attitude is that Afghanistan — or whatever the crisis may be — has a life of its own. Men and women keep dying, and U.S. policies keep accelerating the centrifugal forces that are driving the country toward civil conflict, which may have profound implications for future regional and international security,” said Sarah Chaynes, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a commentary published Sunday.
“Choosing to ignore problems is rarely a good way to solve them,” said Chaynes, who spent nearly a decade in Afghanistan and served as an adviser to the U.S. military.
Most of the problems are likely to surface in Helmand and the south, where most of the surge troops will be removed as part of a drawdown that will reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan from a peak of nearly 103,000 last year to about 68,000 in October. Other nations, including Britain, are also drawing down in the south, and nearly all foreign military forces are to leave the country by the end of 2014.