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A decade of war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan began as the good war. Today it is the good-enough war. In Kabul and Washington, the push is on to wind down a fight that on Friday marked its 10th anniversary.

world Updated: Oct 08, 2011 00:15 IST

The war in Afghanistan began as the good war. Today it is the good-enough war. In Kabul and Washington, the push is on to wind down a fight that on Friday marked its 10th anniversary.

US officials, who are facing a future of fewer troops and less money for reconstruction, are narrowing their goals for the country. The constrained ambitions come amid pressure from the Obama administration to scale back the US commitment at a time of flagging public support.

In southern Afghanistan, American commanders are focused on holding territory taken from the Taliban over the past two fighting seasons. In the Afghan capital, US officials are working to restart peace and reconciliation talks that appear to be going nowhere. And in the east, where violence is up slightly, military commanders are pressing new offensives before troop levels begin to fall. That is where American commanders face their most daunting challenge.

“Our sense of urgency is driven by time and a recognition that we will never have more forces on the ground than we do right now,” said Maj Gen Daniel B Allyn, the US commander in eastern Afghanistan. US troop levels, which are at their peak of about 98,000, will shrink by about 30,000 by summer.

Despite the problems, US commanders point to signs of progress. There are new indications that the Taliban is having a harder time recruiting fighters locally. In two districts of Ghazni province where US forces have fought tough battles, as many as 55% of insurgents who were captured or killed had come from outside the region to fight. “What we can definitively state is that the population is tired of the fighting,” said Allyn, the top commander in the east.

The Americans’ best hope for a resolution to the conflict, a peace deal with one or more of the key insurgent groups, has been plagued by setbacks. The outreach sometimes has ended in calamity and sometimes in farce.

Both American and Afghan officials still acknowledge the need to jump-start serious discussions about peace. They now suggest that they must engage Pakistan more directly, in the hope that Islamabad can persuade insurgents to come to the bargaining table. But others worry that the US’ desire to extricate itself makes it more likely that the Pakistanis will stand pat.

In an exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post. For more info visit www.washingtonpost.com

First Published: Oct 08, 2011 00:09 IST