The US has admitted that winning the war in Afghanistan will be “tougher than Vietnam”.
Richard Holbrooke, Barack Obama’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, told a Nato conference in Munich recently, “It is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it’s going to be much tougher than Vietnam.”
He was speaking as insurgents destroyed a key bridge through the strategically vital Khyber Pass in northern Pakistan. This cuts off the vital supply lines for occupation troops.
The attack has shown that the campaign by Pakistani troops on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has failed to dislodge the insurgents.
This campaign was a key plank of Nato’s strategy to stabilise the occupation.
The bad news for the US was compounded by Kyrgyzstan’s decision to close the US air base in Manas, north of Afghanistan.
This means the US has been forced to turn to Russia, which is reasserting its influence on the former Soviet states on Afghanistan’s northern border, to open a new route for food and fuel.
Russia has granted the US its wish, but is now using the route as a bargaining chip against Nato expansion in eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
Now Afghan president Hamid Karzai, the favoured puppet of the US who was imposed on Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, has turned on his Western allies.
Karzai shocked Nato ministers when he declared that he wants “a reconciliation” with the Taliban insurgents – whether Nato liked it or not.
In response Western powers are blaming the failures of the occupation on the rampant corruption and misrule of his government and want Karzai removed from power. They have declared a “war on drugs” as a pretext to remove him.
Meanwhile the US has dropped any pretence of trying to bring “democracy” to Afghanistan, as Obama’s administration ushers in what it calls a “new realism”.
But even these more “pragmatic” security aims will be difficult to achieve.
There has been a huge loss of confidence among ordinary Afghans in both the occupation and the Karzai government.
This is compounding the problems for the US.
A recent BBC poll found that only 47 percent of Afghans “expressed a favourable opinion” of the US – down from 83 percent in 2005.
Holbrooke, summing up the problems of the occupation, said, “I have never seen anything like the mess we have inherited.”