Getting ready for the Taliban spring

JONATHON GATEHOUSE March 12 2007

Getting ready for the Taliban spring

JONATHON GATEHOUSE March 12 2007

Getting ready for the Taliban spring

BY JONATHON GATEHOUSE • The Snow is still thick on the ground in Afghanistan, but spring appears to have already arrived. For months now, intelligence sources have been warning that the change of season will bring a major offensive from the Taliban. And travelling to the region this week to get allies to pay heed to the growing danger, Dick Cheney got the message first-hand.

The Taliban launched an audacious suicide strike at the gates of Bagram air base near Kabul, during a secret visit by the U.S. vicepresident. Cheney was unhurt, but nearly two dozen died, including two NATO soldiers. Coming almost exactly six years after “victory” was declared in Afghanistan, the bombing highlighted some harsh realities—the West hasn’t the foggiest idea where to find Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, but our enemies are still capable enough to detect the presence of a high-security dignitary and mount a lightning attack.

And despite some public bravado (“2006 was a year of Taliban failure,” said British Gen. David Richards), signs are that the war is intensifying, not dying down. U.S. military statistics say the number of roadside bombs across the country almost doubled last year, and that suicide attacks increased fivefold. Reconstruction efforts are faltering, according to reports by NGOs and aid groups. NATO troop levels in the country are now at their highest since the 2001 invasion.

The Blair government’s pullout of British troops from Iraq has overshadowed a 1,400-strong buttressing of U.K. forces in Afghanistan. Tanks, artillery and aircraft are also being redeployed, as some 3,000 additional British, U.S. and Canadian troops prepare for their own spring

offensives across the south and east. The clearest sign of worry is the increasing pressure on Pakistan. Stephen Harper, the British foreign secretary, and now Cheney have taken President Pervez Musharraf to task for his failure to root out Taliban and alQaeda bases. The ice is getting thinner by the day. M