A senior election official was assassinated in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province on Tuesday, the first killing directly linked to next spring’s critical presidential elections. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack on their Twitter feed. Then, in nearby Badakhshan province yesterday, Taliban fighters reportedly killed 10 police and kidnapped 16. Both of these attacks occurred in the normally (more) peaceful northern part of the country.
Violence in Afghanistan always seems to be simmering away at a low boil, so casual readers may assume that these stories are merely business as usual. But that appears not to be the case: violence is markedly up. The NY Times reports on the grisly trend:
While hard figures are scarce this year, a number of public comments have suggested a significant increase in casualties on the government side. The Guardian newspaper this month quoted Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the American military commander, as saying that Afghan forces were losing 100 killed a week. “I’m not assuming that those casualties are sustainable,” General Dunford was reported to have said.
If that trend continued, it would represent a substantial increase over last year’s reported 2,970 deaths for Afghan security forces, including both police and soldiers.
On July 22, the interior minister, Gen. Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, addressing Parliament during impeachment proceedings against him, defended himself by saying he had been preoccupied with the rising death toll. “From March 21 up to now, I swear to God, 2,748 police have been martyred,” he said.
Leaving Afghanistan in decent shape was never going to be an easy thing to achieve. General Dunford, cited above, estimated that allied forces would have to provide at least five more years of support before the Afghan security forces could stand on their own two feet. There’s just no appetite for that level of sustained engagement in any of the allied capitals.
But by setting a hard date for American disengagement, President Obama clearly communicated to the Taliban exactly when applying pressure to the existing government would have the greatest impact. That time appears to be at hand, so look for much, much more of this kind of thing in the coming weeks and months as the Taliban do their worst to maximize their advantage.
[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]