Afghanistan: May 16, 2004


  Another American soldier was killed in action, bringing to 53 the number of U.S. troops killed in combat in Afghanistan since late 2001. For the last two and a half years, the average number of American troops in Afghanistan has been 11,000. But in the last few months, the number has nearly doubled. American commanders feel that the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan have been unable to mount a serious threat to the Afghan government and is vulnerable to a vigorous campaign by American, and newly trained Afghan, troops. This appears to be working, as Taliban suspects are arrested daily, and armed resistance is feeble. Most Taliban activity can best be described as intimidation. The Taliban threaten various tribes with violence if they do not support Taliban fighters and goals. But the greater presence of American and Afghan troops throughout the south and east has made the Taliban threats less convincing.

But the Taliban and al Qaeda still have their sanctuaries in Pakistan. While the Pakistanis have put more troops on the Afghan border, and fought some of the tribesmen known to be sheltering al Qaeda members, this has not stopped the movement across the border. It's more difficult for al Qaeda and Taliban gunmen to get across the border undetected, and they have to move more carefully on the Pakistani side to avoid army patrols. But there are still sanctuaries in Pakistan, and American troops cannot cross the border into Pakistan. There are some CIA, FBI and Special Forces in Pakistan, but the best they can do is get an accurate sense of how bad the situation is. 


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