The Afghans know it. The soldiers on the ground know it. And now the Pentagon has admitted it. The occupation in Afghanistan is in severe crisis.
Yet British ministers are still attempting to portray what has become the bloodiest month for British and coalition troops since the invasion in 2001 as a sign of imminent victory.
After the latest British casualties were announced defence minister Des Browne told the BBC, “We have had a very, very, very bad month. It’s because of the way the Taliban have changed their tactics.
“There is a degree of trust in this, but people need to trust that those changes in tactics are a consequence of our progress, rather than as a consequence of the Taliban winning.”
Unfortunately for Browne the latest assessment of the war from US department of defence comes to a very different conclusion.
In a report to the US Congress released last week, the Pentagon warns, “The Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008.”
The Pentagon said that the occupation faces a “two-front insurgency”. The Taliban has regrouped in the Helmand province in the south, launching a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks on British and Canadian troops in the area.
The latest British casualties are a result of this new offensive.
Meanwhile fighters from rebel tribes are spilling over the Pakistan border in the east of the country. Up until recently Nato was hailing its success in this strategically vital Khost province along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Now this region has slipped back into the hands of the resistance.
General Jeffrey Schloesser, the top US military commander in southeast Afghanistan, said that attacks on his troops were up “40 percent in the first five months of 2008”.
Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, now admits that early talk of victory has proved to be hollow.
He said last week, “It actually was not bad until a few months ago. Khost was an example of a successful counterinsurgency.”
Control over Khost province is significant for the Afghan resistance. The region is an important gateway between Pakistan and Afghanistan and was the centre of the opposition to the Russian occupation in the 1980s.
The collapse of Russian control over Khost in 1988 signalled defeat for that occupation.
Now the provice is once more back under the control of insurgents. Faced with this strategic setback, the US is pressuring Pakistan’s government to rip up a ceasefire deal with the tribes along its northern border.
But this move threatens to destabilise Pakistan. The border tribes enjoy a degree of autonomy from the central government and have close links with Afghanistan.
Attempts by Pakistani soldiers to enter the border regions in 2006 ended in a humiliating defeat. Pakistan agreed to a truce and withdrew its forces.
Gates said, “The ability of the Taliban and other insurgents to cross that border and not being under any pressure from the Pakistani side of the border is clearly a concern.”
Now the US is exerting influence on Pakistan’s new government – elected in February on the back of popular opposition to the “war on terror” – to send troops back into the area. The US proposed an attack from the north while the Pakistani military pushes from the south.
The tribes responded immediately by seizing key towns and walking out of peace talks. The fighting spread to Peshawar, the major city in the north of the country, before the Pakistan government backed down.
Adding to the woes, the Pentagon has also admitted that the Afghan army is too weak to deal with the insurgency – despite receiving seven years of training and hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons.
The number of civilians killed by fighting in Afghanistan this year has risen by 62 percent, according to the United Nations.
John Holmes, a UN emergency relief coordinator, also warned that rising food prices and growing insecurity were endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghan people already suffering from drought and poor harvests.