Simon Tisdall writes:
Barack Obama puts a brave face on it. The Afghan war is winnable, he insists. “We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum,” he told US troops at Bagram this month. He repeated the mantra today. But American commentators and analysts, across the political spectrum, are wondering aloud: will it happen the other way around? Will the war break Obama’s presidency?
Obama is not yet the Rose Garden prisoner of a failed policy – the fate that befell a Democrat predecessor, Jimmy Carter, whose administration was taken hostage by Iran’s revolutionary mullahs. But he’s uncomfortably close, for all the determined White House talk.
Obama the presidential candidate talked up the war, spoke of fighting the good fight in Afghanistan in contrast to Iraq, wrote Peter Feaver in Foreign Policy. But Obama the president struggles to communicate his aims, much as he struggled on healthcare. Feaver said:
“The administration’s strategy appears to be to drive the public narrative underground.”
In other words, Obama would rather not talk about it unless he cannot avoid it.
This reluctance is political and intellectual. Veteran foreign policy analyst Leslie Gelb, writing in the Daily Beast, said Obama can no longer persuasively answer the basic question: why are 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan, at an annual cost of $113bn?
A New York Times report from Kunduz indicates that as the US has focused its efforts on securing the south, the Taliban is now taking control of the north.
This city, once a crossroads in the country’s northeast, is increasingly besieged. The airport closed months ago to commercial flights. The roads heading south to Kabul and east to Tajikistan as well as north and west are no longer safe for Afghans, let alone Westerners.
Although the numbers of American and German troops in the north have more than doubled since last year, insecurity has spread, the Taliban are expanding their reach, and armed groups that purportedly support the government are terrorizing local people and hampering aid organizations, according to international aid workers, Afghan government officials, local residents and diplomats.
The growing fragility of the north highlights the limitations of the American effort here, hampered by waning political support at home and a fixed number of troops. The Pentagon’s year-end review will emphasize hard-won progress in the south, the heartland of the insurgency, where the military has concentrated most troops. But those advances have come at the expense of security in the north and east, with some questioning the wisdom of the focus on the south and whether the coalition can control the entire country.