This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
In the worst of times, my father always used to say, “A good gambler cuts his losses.” It’s a formulation imprinted on my brain forever. That no-nonsense piece of advice still seems reasonable to me, but it doesn’t apply to American war policy. Our leaders evidently never saw a war to which the word “more” didn’t apply. Hence the Afghan War, where impending disaster is just an invitation to fuel the flames of an already roaring fire.
Here’s a partial rundown of news from that devolving conflict. In the last week, Nuristan, a province on the Pakistani border, essentially fell to the Taliban after the United States withdrew its forces from four key bases. Similarly in Khost, another eastern province bordering Pakistan where US forces once registered much-publicized gains (and which Richard Holbrooke, now President Obama’s special envoy to the region, termed “an American success story”), the Taliban is largely in control. It is, according to Yochi Dreazen and Anand Gopal of the Wall Street Journal, now “one of the most dangerous provinces” in the country. Similarly, the Taliban insurgency, once largely restricted to the Pashtun south, has recently spread fiercely to the west and north. At the same time, neighboring Pakistan is an increasingly destabilized country amid war in its tribal borderlands, a terror campaign spreading throughout the country, escalating American drone attacks, and increasingly testy relations between American officials and the Pakistani government and military.
Meanwhile, the US command in Afghanistan is considering a strategy that involves pulling back from the countryside and focusing on protecting more heavily populated areas (which might be called, with the first US Afghan War of the 1980s in mind, the Soviet strategy). The underpopulated parts of the countryside would then undoubtedly be left to Hellfire missile-armed American drone aircraft. In the last week, three US helicopters–the only practical way to get around a mountainous country with a crude, heavily mined system of roads–went down under questionable circumstances (another potential sign of an impending Soviet-style disaster). Across the country, Taliban attacks are up; deadly roadside bombs or IEDs are fast on the rise (a 350 percent jump since 2007); US deaths are at a record high and the numbers of wounded are rising rapidly; European allies are ever less willing to send more troops; and Taliban raids in the capital, Kabul, are on the increase. All this despite a theoretical twelve-to-one edge US, NATO and Afghan troops have over the Taliban insurgents and their allies.