In an indication of the direction the tide is turning in Afghanistan, a place often dubbed the graveyard of empires, NATO last week suffered what The Guardian described as ‘the biggest single loss of life for US forces in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.’
According to reports, insurgents shot down a NATO helicopter in the eastern province of Maidan Wardak, killing 38 people, including 31 US Special Forces. A US-led coalition spokesperson has confirmed that the chopper was shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade by Taliban forces as their hideout was raided.
The attack is only the clearest example of the surge in violence across Afghanistan just as US and NATO troops are planning a modest drawdown of troops in the near future. The intensification of violence is expected to exacerbate growing concern inside and outside the country over the possibility that Afghanistan will slide into chaos once international troops leave Kabul in 2014.
The uptick in attacks appears to have occurred following the US announcement of a partial withdrawal of its soldiers. As noted by the National Interest, the past couple of months have seen a number of high-profile Afghans being targeted, including Gen. Mohammed Daud Daud, commander of interior ministry forces in northern Afghanistan, Ahmad Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother and chairman of the Kandahar provincial council and Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan Province and a close friend and ally of Karzai. Just last week, a suicide bomber claimed the life of Kandahar Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi.
There’s a method in the Taliban’s method: it’s trying to destroy the credibility of the international forces and the Afghan government, and demonstrate to the world that despite NATO’s claims it has the upper hand, the Taliban actually holds sway over large areas of Afghanistan. They are, in effect, trying to challenge the widely publicized narrative of greater security in Afghanistan, and rubbish the idea that Afghan forces are going to be able to assume responsibility for security once coalition troops leave the country.
So why the persistent violence? The National Interest blames the estranged relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, noting Islamabad’s ‘policy of support for the insurgents and opposition to US and Afghan policies despite its statements to the contrary’ and ‘Pakistan’s complicity in the recent assassinations.’ It also blames Iran for continuing to support those opposing the United States—perhaps in coordination with Islamabad—without fear of any consequences.
Whatever the reasons, the United States seems to be staring at the same fate the Soviet Union met in the 1980s.
Portable Stinger missile systems provided by the United States to the Mujahideen and UK-supplied Blowpipe weapons paralysed the operations of the Russian troops in Afghanistan, contributing to the humiliation of the Red Army. Now, according to The Guardian, ‘NATO forces have intercepted so-called Manpads, or man-portable air defence systems, illegally smuggled from Iran and there have been recorded incidents when they have been used.’
The paper also quoted a WikiLeaks cable saying that last year, the US military covered up a reported surface-to-air missile strike that downed a Chinook helicopter over Helmand, killing seven soldiers.
History seems to be haunting international troops once again.