The other quagmire

A new CIA assessment makes clear that Afghanistan is sliding into an abyss on Bush's watch, too.

Published November 5, 2006 10:01PM (EST)

The U.S. is facing "stark choices." Averting failure will take "multiple years" and "multiple billions."

Just about everyone realizes the dismal truth about Iraq by now, and it's expected to be a driving force at the polls on Tuesday. But the above are the words of Ronald E. Neuman, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, in a report from the New York Times today detailing a dark assessment by the CIA of the current situation in Afghanistan. Indeed, it's become increasingly clear that the Bush administration has also bungled what's bitterly known to some troops on the ground there as the "forgotten war."

The CIA says that the government led by President Hamid Karzai -- who was long ago dubbed the "mayor of Kabul" -- continues to have little authority or control beyond the capital city. Moreover, says the agency, increasing numbers of Afghans view Karzais government as corrupt, failing to deliver promised reconstruction and too weak to protect the country from rising Taliban attacks.

The CIA's analysis is a grim sequel to the National Intelligence Estimate leaked to the media in September, which shredded for good the tattered pages of fiction about progress in Iraq from which the White House has kept right on reciting to the Amercian public. Just as that quagmire is now a global "cause célèbre for jihadists," so, too, is an increasingly chaotic Afghanistan contributing to the greater vortex. The sharp increase in suicide attacks and roadside bombings there over the last couple of years, and over the last few months in particular, are tactics that have "migrated from Iraq," according to a senior U.S. official cited by the Times. Until more recently, "there's not been a tradition of suicide bombers" in Afghanistan, the official says, suggesting that they've arrived by way of the Internet and people traveling between the countries. "Psychologically," the official says, "this has had a major impact."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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