KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban insurgents once derided as a ragtag rabble unable to match U.S. troops have transformed into a fighting force – one advanced enough to mount massive conventional attacks and claim American lives at a record pace.
The U.S. military suffered its 101st death of the year in Afghanistan last week when Sgt. 1st Class David J. Todd Jr., a 36-year-old from Marrero, La., died of gunfire wounds while helping train Afghan police in the northwest. The total number of U.S. dead last year – 111 – was a record and is likely to be surpassed.
Top U.S. generals, European presidents and analysts say the blame lies to the east, in militant sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan. As long as those areas remain havens where fighters arm, train, recruit and plot increasingly sophisticated ambushes, the Afghan war will continue to sour.
“The U.S. is now losing the war against the Taliban,” Anthony Cordesman, of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a report Thursday.
A resurgent al-Qaida, which was harbored by the Taliban in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, could soon follow, Cordesman warned.
Cordesman called for the U.S. to treat Pakistani territory as a combat zone if Pakistan does not act. “Pakistan may officially be an ally, but much of its conduct has effectively made it a major threat to U.S. strategic interests.”
An influx of Chechen, Turkish, Uzbek and Arab fighters has helped increased the Taliban’s military precision, including an ambush by 100 fighters last week that killed 10 French soldiers, and a rush on a U.S. outpost last month by 200 militants that killed nine Americans.
Multi-direction attacks, flawlessly executed ambushes and increasingly powerful roadside and suicide bombs mean the U.S. and 40-nation NATO-led force will in all likelihood suffer its deadliest year in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.