Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — A U.S. troop buildup in 2010 was meant to blunt the momentum of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Now it is 2011 that has become the make-or-break year.
U.S. and NATO officials have sought to put a positive face on the last 12 months of fighting here, citing significant military gains in the Taliban's southern heartland, a concerted campaign of strikes targeting the insurgents' midlevel field command and the growth of the NATO force to levels at last deemed adequate for the task at hand.
"We are convinced … that we are actually making progress; we have proven that progress is possible," German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, told journalists in Kabul in December. "We will keep up the pressure on the insurgency."
But some ominous developments, both on and off the battlefield, bode ill for the new year.
The Taliban made deep inroads in swaths of the country previously regarded as relatively safe — the north, northwest and center — eroding confidence in the West's ability to protect the Afghan populace and hampering aid and reconstruction efforts. Parliamentary elections in September intended as a democratic showpiece devolved into fraud and chaos. Corruption tightened its grip on the government of President Hamid Karzai.
By midsummer, combat casualties among U.S. troops and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force as a whole had already reached their highest annual levels of the war. On Friday, the American military toll stood just short of a grim milestone: 498 deaths, according to the independent website icasualties.org, more than in the previous two years put together.
Altogether, Western troops suffered more than 700 fatalities in 2010, heightening unease on the part of European governments keenly aware of the war's unpopularity at home. While the NATO allies presented a united front at a conference in November, the Americans — whose troops make up two-thirds of the 150,000-member Western force — privately fretted about the likelihood of the United States shouldering an even larger share of the military burden in coming years.
The Snooper Report.
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