October 10, 2008 in City

Afghanistan worrying U.S.

New report warns of ‘downward spiral’
By PAMELA HESS Associated Press

Afghans request NATO help

 BUDAPEST, Hungary – Afghanistan appealed Thursday for more NATO help to attack heroin dealers whose thriving trade is blamed for bankrolling the widening insurgency against the pro-Western government and international forces.

 Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak made the appeal at a meeting with his NATO counterparts against the backdrop of spreading violence that has sparked doubt about whether Western forces can win the war against the Taliban.

 Wardak’s appeal follows lobbying by the United States to persuade allies to hit back against the insurgency by striking against the drug lords who are estimated to provide up to $100 million a year to the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies.

WASHINGTON – The situation in Afghanistan now is the worst since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001 and the country is in danger of a “downward spiral” into violence and chaos, according to an intelligence report draft.

The nearly completed National Intelligence Estimate, the work of 16 intelligence agencies, says Afghanistan’s deterioration has accelerated alarmingly in past two months. Bush administration officials say privately that Afghanistan is now the single most pressing security threat in the fight against terrorism.

“We are doing a review to look to see what more we can do,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday. “We are looking to see where some of the strengths are … and also how we can help the Afghans when there are weaknesses.”

A senior U.S. commander with recent experience in Afghanistan characterized the situation as “stagnant,” not deteriorating.

“We’re not making progress … because of a lack of capability in the government and because the Taliban have a safe haven from which to plan, train, and launch attacks into Afghanistan,” said the commander, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive material.

A second military commander, who read the draft of the intelligence report, said it warns that action is needed quickly to prevent Afghanistan from heading into the downward spiral. The secret report is expected to be completed mid-November.

Military figures show that Afghanistan has become far more dangerous for American troops than Iraq. More than twice as many Americans have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq since May, even though there are more than five times the number of troops in Iraq.

The administration has announced plans to send 3,500 additional Marines to Afghanistan before year’s end and then an Army brigade of about 5,000 soldiers early in 2009. As many as three additional Army brigades could follow in the months after that. Currently the U.S. has 31,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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