Islamic insurgents are expanding their numbers and reach in Afghanistan and Pakistan, spreading violence and disarray over a vast cross-border zone where al Qaida has rebuilt the sanctuary it lost when the United States invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
There is little in the short term that the Bush administration or its allies can do to halt the bloodshed, which is spreading toward Pakistan's heartland and threatening to destabilize the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO forces are facing "a classic growing insurgency," Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday.
But the U.S. military, stretched thin by the war in Iraq, is hard-pressed to send more than the 3,200 additional Marines the Bush administration is dispatching to Afghanistan. The growing insurgency there is fueling rifts within the NATO alliance as Germany and other nations refuse to allow their troops to participate in offensive operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan army is making progress but still cannot operate independently.
"Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," warned an Atlantic Council of the United States report last week. The report was directed by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, the former top NATO commander. "What is happening in Afghanistan and beyond its borders can have even greater strategic long-term consequences than the struggle in Iraq."
In Pakistan, the army, trained for conventional warfare against India, has declined to send major forces into battle against the Islamists, fearful that heavy casualties could unhinge the military along ethnic and sectarian lines. The U.S. and its allies can do little more than help train some Pakistani troops because a major U.S. military role in Pakistan would further enrage a population that's already seething with anti-government and anti-U.S. rage.
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