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From bad to worse in Afghanistan

Posted: July 18, 2011 - 7:18pm

KABUL, Afghanistan — The assassination of President Hamid Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, along with the recent attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in the heart of the capital in Kabul, underscore the increasingly fragile security situation in Afghanistan.

Both events occurred soon after President Barack Obama announced his intention to begin withdrawing 30,000 “surge” troops beginning this month, with a goal of removing all American forces by the end of 2014.

With the death of Osama bin Laden and claims that his terror network had been crippled in Afghanistan, the president suggested that the United States and its international partners had done all they could in the country.

Afghans would have to assume responsibility for security in Afghanistan, the president said.

The hotel attack, however, immediately raised questions about the Afghan military’s capabilities, with eight terrorists successfully overwhelming one of the most secure places in the capital. It was only after NATO helicopters were called after an all all-night firefight that the siege was brought to an end.

While many complain that the assault laid bare the weakness of Afghanistan’s security forces, with some guards reportedly fleeing after the first shots were fired, others note that their response was about as good as could have been expected, given the Afghan forces’ level of equipment and training.

What the attack on the hotel did show was the pervasive presence of the Taliban and their growing alliance with other anti-government forces all across the country.

These insurgents in recent months have steadily ratcheted up the size, frequency and effectiveness of these attacks, while showing an alarming ability to penetrate seemingly impenetrable places.

Recent events included the wholesale escape of nearly 500 Talban captives from a prison in the southern province of Kandahar; the dramatic attack on the defense ministry headquarters in Kabul; and the suicide attack on a high-level military meeting in the northern Taxhar province that killed one of Afghanistan’s best commanders and injured a NATO general.

Indeed, the list seems to grow daily.

Now, the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai by a close family friend highlights what may be an even greater threat to the government than the one posed by the Taliban and their foreign supporters.

While the international community has spent billions on training and equipping more than 200,000 security personnel, much of that money has been siphoned off by senior officials who have steadily enriched themselves. Among them was Ahmed Wali Karzai, 50, who in addition to having been on the CIA’s payroll is said to have muscled his way into the country’s multi-billion dollar opium trade, an accusation he has denied. But there is no denying that he controlled lucrative security contracts throughout the southern province of Kandahar, which he governed as his personal fiefdom.

A decade of war, chaos and corruption at the country’s core has driven many into the arms of the Taliban.

An Afghan friend who lives in a province neighboring Kabul explained why he has come to support the Taliban.

“Where is it secure?” he asked. A corrupt central government has proved incapable of providing for his safety. Now, international forces are preparing to leave as well. His only hope for the future, he said, was to make his peace with the Taliban.

• Eichstaedt is the country director in Afghanistan for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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