Coalition of the Wilting

We are witness to a spectacular surge of violence across the entire swathe of the Middle East and Central Asia. Some would take it as proof that the clash of civilizations is already upon us.

Marshalling the forces on one side of this conflict is the United States of George Bush—the greatest military power the planet has ever known. Indeed, if one were to measure the opponents by economic power and military strength, the victory of the U.S. and its minions would seem assured. It isn’t–as the current headlines make appallingly clear.

The United States seems to be waging not just a losing but an increasingly lonely struggle—despite the mammoth amounts of money, men and resources they have poured into the region.

Afghanistan was the so-called front line in the war against terror—the first country to be invaded by a U.S-led coalition after 9/11. America’s NATO allies signed on to help with the venture. But despite bold words of support, the NATO countries took more than four years to finally come up with the troops they had promised.

Even then there was a catch. The governments of 20 of those 26 countries placed caveats on how, where, and when those troops could be used—a total of more than a hundred different caveats in all. “You need a computer to figure out which countries troops you can send on which parts of which mission, said Teresita Schaffer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. The last thing most of the forces are permitted to do is actually undertake military missions to hunt down the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The upshot is that the burden and casualties are being born by a handful of increasingly resentful nations, such as Canada. The situation may become only worse: the French and Dutch have indicated they may withdraw all their forces, while the Germans are “restudying” the situation.

What worries everyone is the recent dramatic resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, operating out of havens in neighboring Afghanistan. It was to interdict such havens that the U.S. has been paying the Pakistani government upwards of 1 billion dollars a year for the past five years to conduct counter terrorism operations along their Afghan border. The money was to cover the Pakistani military’s expenses for those patrols. That was the theory.

In fact, the U.S. is continuing those huge payments even though Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff announced eight months ago that he was drastically cutting back military operations in the very region where Al Qaeda and Taliban have been most active. There is also abundant evidence that Pakistani forces have turned their backs—despite alerts from American forces—and allowed Taliban fighters to retreat across the border back into Pakistan. There is even a report that Pakistani forces fired in support of Taliban forces attacking Afghan outposts.

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