US Must Craft Counter-Terror Plan in Afghanistan, Liberal Analysts Say

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - On the same day a suicide bomber killed 90 people in northern Afghanistan, policy analysts in Washington, D.C., said those casualties indicate a "faltering mission and deteriorating security situation" in the country, one that requires a new strategy.

"This is just the latest in a series of suicide bombings that have rocked the country," said Caroline Wadhams, senior policy analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, at a briefing held by the center on Tuesday. "This was a tactic that was not seen in Afghanistan prior to Sept. 11."

Wadhams noted that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated since 2005. "We see signs that the Taliban and al Qaeda have reconstituted in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that they are growing in strength," she said.

Wadhams and Larry Korb, senior vice president for national security and international policy at the center, released a report Tuesday outlining the changes they believe the U.S. must make to "deny sanctuary to al Qaeda and its affiliates and build a stable, secure state that is not threatened by internal conflict and does not threaten its neighbors."

According to their recommendations, the United States "must fully implement a counter-insurgency framework for all of Afghanistan.

All elements of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including development and reconstruction assistance, support for rule of law, counternarcotics strategy and military operations, should be coordinated within this framework."

"Opium production has reached unprecedented levels, now providing about 93 percent of the world's opium economy," said Wadhams. "Those revenues are going to be partially funding the insurgency in Afghanistan."

She credited the current security situation to the idea that the U.S. "has remained largely unfocused on Afghanistan. We are barely paying attention. We've been consumed as a country by Iraq."

Korb added that Afghanistan is the "central front in the war on terror," and not achieving success in Afghanistan would be a "greater failure than not achieving our objectives in Iraq."

James Dobbins, director of the international security and defense policy center at the RAND Corporation, added that the Bush administration is "heavily distracted by other, even more difficult situations.

"I'm not sure they have the time or the attention or the resources to adequately carry out many of these recommendations," he said. But he noted that "assistance to Afghanistan is going up," and U.S. aid in 2008 will be 20 times what it was in 2002.

The report also noted that the U.S. must work to "remove the terrorist safe haven in Pakistan" by putting increased pressure on the Pakistani government to root out extremist elements.

"We need to acknowledge that Pakistan is - always has been - and probably will remain the central front in any international war on terrorism," Dobbin said, in contrast to Korb's views about Afghanistan.

"That is still where people who want to blow up buildings in London go for inspiration and guidance. They're not going to Iraq, they're going to Pakistan," Dobbin added.

In September, John Negroponte, deputy secretary of the U.S. State Department, said that significant progress is being made in Afghanistan.

"Preventing the recurrence of another horrific attack like [9/11] is the reason we arrived in Afghanistan," he said. "But we remain here to help the Afghan people chart a new future of stability, prosperity and peace."

"With the combined efforts of the Afghan people and the international community, we are making impressive strides towards that vision, and the opportunities are diminishing for those who would bring Afghanistan back to the days of oppression, fear and death," he said.

"Defeating an insurgency increasingly fueled by the narcotics trade is a painstaking process," Negroponte added, "but progress is being made, and we will not abandon the people of Afghanistan to the likes of the Taliban and al Qaeda."

"With improved security, prosperity and social development, there are fewer places that the Taliban can look to for safe haven," he said. "The Afghan government is leading the nation towards a new future, and we will support that effort."

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