Our side had a good run, six years in fact. In a war, six years is a long time. It's enough to even defeat former superpowers like Nazi Germany and Japan. It ought to have been enough to sort out Afghanistan's Taliban. That window of opportunity, however, may have been closing as we hunkered down in our fortified garrisons, ran occasional patrols and even rarer search and destroy missions - the military equivalent of treading water.
A report in today's New York Times tells of a new generation of foreign fighter, some looking more like Vikings than Islamists, coming into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban:
"Foreign fighters are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps also Turkey and western China, Afghan and American officials say.
'We’ve seen an unprecedented level of reports of foreign-fighter involvement,' said Maj. Gen. Bernard S. Champoux, deputy commander for security of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. 'They’ll threaten people if they don’t provide meals and support.'
Seth Jones, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, was less sanguine, however, calling the arrival of more foreigners a dangerous development. The tactics the foreigners have introduced, he said, are increasing Afghan and Western casualty rates.
'They play an incredibly important part in the insurgency,' Mr. Jones said. 'They act as a force multiplier in improving their ability to kill Afghan and NATO forces.'
Western officials said the foreigners are also increasingly financing younger Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas who have closer ties to Al Qaeda, like Sirajuddin Haqqani and Anwar ul-Haq Mujahed. The influence of older, more traditional Taliban leaders based in Quetta, Pakistan, is diminishing."
The Times report suggests the insurgency is now spreading beyond the country's southern Pashtuns into the Uzbeks and Tajiks. With the addition of foreign fighters the lines of the insurgency are becoming blurred. More problems for NATO, more problems for Canada and yet, again, Canada's modest force deployed in Kandahar will just have to make do with the same small number of troops as we had at the outset.
Next up, Iran. If Bush/Cheney bomb the hell out of Iran, as is widely expected, look for a growing Islamist revolt against Western infidels throughout the region, Afghanistan very much included. Then NATO will be fully enmeshed in the new war, the Global War on Islam. That one should be a real gem.