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America’s Other War

Americans are understandably concerned about the grave security situation in Iraq.  The United States has suffered more than 2,500 fatalities in that conflict and has yet to defeat the insurgency.  Indeed, the level of violence in Iraq is increasing, and much of that violence now consists of sectarian bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites.  The American people worry, with good reason, that Iraq might be on the brink of full-scale civil war, with U.S. troops caught in the middle.

Until recently, the mission in Afghanistan seemed to be an impressive contrast to the debacle in Iraq.  Even though Washington never deployed troops in Afghanistan in anything close to the numbers it did in Iraq (some 20,000 versus the current 133,000 in Iraq), the policy appeared to be a success.  U.S. forces, allied with the indigenous Northern Alliance, routed Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in late 2001 with minimal American casualties.  Washington helped install a pro-Western government headed by Hamid Karzai, who was acceptable to most of the significant political powerbrokers in Afghanistan.  During 2002, political stability appeared to be returning to the country, and Osama bin Laden and his followers were on the run in the Tora Bora mountains.  Speculation was rife in Washington that the terrorist leader and most of Al Qaeda’s top operatives would soon be captured or killed.

That did not...

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