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Analysis: Afghanistan: Still Violent but 'Winnable'

Council on Foreign Relations

June 11, 2007
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

Afghan President Hamid Karzai brushed off a recent assassination attempt (al-Jazeera) by rather nonchalantly gesturing to those gathered before him to sit down so he could continue his speech, despite the nearby barrage of rockets. The incident underscored the violence, usually directed by Taliban or Taliban-connected warlords, that persists in today’s Afghanistan. The recent killing of a top-ranking Taliban leader did little to ease the bloodshed in Afghanistan’s unruly south. Still, glimmers of hope abound, like the standing-up of a decently equipped and trained national army. Police training is another story, as low salaries feeds low recruitment and rampant corruption. “Bribes are more important than bullets,” Michael Fumento writes in the Weekly Standard. But Fumento also argues that Afghanistan remains a “winnable war.”

Afghan hearts and minds remain very much up in the air, as sympathies have not entirely shifted toward the Taliban. Coalition forces try to win over locals by rebuilding bridges (Reuters) and schools and restoring the rule of law. Likewise, Taliban leaders, unlike their counterparts in Iraq, are increasingly avoiding mass casualty attacks and “soft” targets (UPI) for fear of local Afghans turning against them. Of the past 180 suicide bombings, only six or seven targeted civilians, according to a new study authored by Brian Gwyn Williams of UMass-Dartmouth. But other accounts suggest the contrary, including reports of beheadings of teachers, health professionals, and others by Taliban insurgents.

Increasingly, civilian casualties have also come at the hands of air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition forces, writes Karl Inderfurth of George Washington University in the International Herald Tribune. He suggests doling out more cash from NATO to Afghan families of victims, a Status of Forces agreement to spell out more definitively civilian-military relations, and working more closely with the Afghan army to “put an Afghan face on operations.”

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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