A Mixed Report in Afghanistan
From high over the remote border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. spy cameras spotted a group of Taliban commanders leading a column of scores of men into Afghanistan several months ago. To avoid detection, the men--clad in rags and wearing plastic bags on their feet instead of shoes--were walking in a double-file line that stretched for almost a mile. U.S. officials believe these peasants were recruits. "It was clear that this was the fodder for the suicide bombs," says one official.
This extremist pipeline is helping to fuel a broader resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The pace of suicide bombings hit a record in the fall of 2006, and insurgent violence in January more than doubled from the previous year. More than five years after U.S. forces ousted the Taliban, the militants are mounting another strong spring offensive. U.S. and coalition soldiers are also paying a higher price?51 were killed in the first four months of 2007, versus 36 in the same 2006 period.
Civilian toll. U.S. military operations continue to draw protests amid accusations of their causing civilian deaths. Afghan officials said U.S. airstrikes last week aimed at Taliban targets killed at least 21 civilians. U.S. officials acknowledged the incident, which came a day after the military paid compensation to the families of 19 people who were killed by indiscriminate U.S. gunfire after a suicide bombing in March.
The Taliban's gains threaten to undermine several encouraging glimmers of progress. Afghanistan's economy is averaging an annual growth rate of nearly 14 percent since 2002. And the U.S. troop presence remains improbably popular. More than 80 percent of Afghans want American soldiers to stay, according to recent State Department polls.
Since 2001, Washington has spent $15.5 billion on reconstruction and on training and equipping Afghan security forces. Now, the Bush administration is proposing a major boost in funding--to nearly $12 billion for the next 18 months.
This story appears in the May 21, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.