The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been polar opposites. One was launched to avenge the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the other under dubious and now well-documented false pretenses. The first routed an oppressive, Islamist regime; the second ousted a dictator and ushered in an army of extremists. One followed the other, but Afghanistan should have remained America's primary focus.
Never more was that evident than now, as Taliban fighters and sympathizers have unleashed spectacular attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. Not one but 10 suicide bombers kicked off a ferocious, 20-hour battle at a key American base in the eastern province of Khost this week. Another bold ambush occurred outside Kabul where 10 French elite paratroopers were killed. At this pace, 2008 will be the deadliest year of the war for the U.S. and its allies since 2001. Political upheaval over the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf in neighboring Pakistan has complicated the Afghan war by giving Taliban fighters ample opportunity to regroup and refortify in that country's treacherous mountainous border with Afghanistan. The previous Pakistani strategy of appeasing Taliban supporters has allowed the insurgents to plan bigger operations against U.S.-led forces. That has to stop. To ensure the security of Pakistan and Afghanistan, NATO members must persuade the Pakistani government to join this fight and flush the insurgents from the border region.
In Iraq, a relative calm stands in stark contrast with the escalating struggle in Afghanistan. Diplomats negotiating in Baghdad said yesterday they had a preliminary agreement to end U.S. troops' long, arduous duty in Iraqi cities by next June. The reduced violence and sectarian fighting in Iraq may yet yield to further conflict. But, regardless, the United States must soon leave that country's future in the hands of the Iraqis.
The reason looms nearby in Afghanistan. American soldiers have that other war to finish now, a war on terror that grows more difficult the longer U.S. troops remain in Baghdad and Basra and Ramadi.