It's a virtual certainty that Bush will leave office with upwards of 100,000 American troops bogged down in the disastrous quagmire of Iraq, but what about that other war that started on his watch? The one in Afghanistan?
Increasingly, Afghanistan is starting to look like another Iraq. 2007 will be the deadliest year for US forces in that country with 108 having lost their lives and nearly two months still to go. It's also been the worst year yet for NATO casualties with 105 deaths.
Last week, 59 schoolchildren were killed in a horrific suicide bombing which also claimed the lives of six Afghan members of parliament:
The children, all boys aged between eight and 18 from the same school, had gathered to welcome a visiting delegation of parliamentarians to a sugar factory outside the town of Pul-i-Khumri, 90 miles north of the capital, in the province of Baghlan. Five teachers, six MPs and five bodyguards were also killed in the attack, and 93 other children were injured, some critically. Witnesses have said some victims may have been killed or wounded by guards who opened fire after the blast.
The resurgent Taliban, who have disclaimed responsibility for this attack, have been plenty busy spreading havoc and mayhem as the US and NATO have staged a bloody counterinsurgency campaign in response.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for 130 suicide bomb attacks this year and up to 5,700 people have been killed - most of them rebels.
And now there's word of the deadliest attack on US soldiers in some time as reported by the AP:
Six U.S. troops were killed when insurgents ambushed their foot patrol in the high mountains of eastern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. The attack, the most lethal against American forces this year, made this year the deadliest for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
As in Iraq, the central government in Afghanistan is largely incapable of securing the country and would likely collapse within weeks without the presence of US and NATO forces. The major difference with the situation in Iraq is that the stakes for the US are far higher in Afghanistan.
How can that be? Iraq has oil while Afghanistan does not. How could Afghanistan be more important than Iraq?
The simple answer is that Afghanistan is fertile ground for the brand of radical Islamic extremism that gave rise to the Taliban while Iraq is not. While the Maliki government would collapse instantly without US troops they would not be replaced by an al Qaeda-friendly group like the Taliban. In Iraq, the Shiite and Kurdish militias will continue to rule the day while the minority Sunnis are penned up in impoverished Anbar province where al Qaeda maintains a minor presence.
In Afghanistan however, the Taliban would be the most likely force to reoccupy positions of power after the Karzai government is swept into the dust bin of history. Obviously, that is not a situation we can live with and is the reason why we are likely to remain in Afghanistan for decades to come (while we could easily withdraw from Iraq right now).
While Iraq consumes the lion's share of resources and troops and most of Washington's attention, the situation in Afghanistan presents much greater challenges and far greater dangers to our long term national security interests. The Bush strategy in Afghanistan has largely failed; hopefully the candidates for president in 2008 while begin to tell us their plan for Bush's second unfinished war.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!