Now US and NATO forces plan to launch the biggest offensive of the war this summer when over 20,000 troops will deploy to clear Kandahar city and adjoining Taliban-controlled districts before handing security over to Afghan forces. US General David Petraeus warned the population of Kandahar on a visit there on April 30 that the Taliban would retaliate and take ''horrific actions'' to disrupt the US-led offensive. The Taliban have since launched a wave of assassinations in broad daylight in the city, killing a dozen top Afghan officials including the deputy mayor of the city.
There are three ongoing crises that the international community has still failed to square up to. The first is the lack of a consistent Afghan partner. A new Pentagon report to the US Congress states that only 29 out of 121 key districts support President Hamid Karzai. Most Afghans are still sitting on the fence. Recent US pressure on Karzai to improve governance in Afghanistan and eliminate corruption continues to fall on deaf ears.
For the past nine years, American governments have been naive and inconsistent in their dealings with Karzai. During that time, the Afghan president has never considered good governance to be a serious issue -- why should he suddenly be expected to do so now? Meanwhile, the lack of trust between Karzai and the Americans has grown. The US first accused Karzai of rigging last year's presidential elections, then accepted the results only to fight with him again over governance issues, finally making up with Karzai so he could conduct an all important visit to Washington the week before last.
The second problem is that even if the US maintains a troop presence in Afghanistan for another five years, as it is likely to do, the Europeans will certainly decline to do so. According to recent polls, 72 percent of Britons want their troops out of Afghanistan immediately, as do 62 percent of Germans. Polling across Europe -- from Spain to Sweden -- shows that over 50 percent of Europeans have had enough and want their troops to come home.
Thus Afghanistan's immediate crisis is also in the corridors of NATO in Brussels and European capitals because no European government can afford to sustain a foreign policy that is so deeply unpopular at home and costs so much in terms of blood and treasure for very long. So it was not surprising to see US and European leaders agree at the April 23 NATO meeting in Tallinn to start transferring control of some provinces of Afghanistan back to the Afghan government by the end of this year. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's statement that ''increasingly this year the momentum will be ours'' seemed overly optimistic and hollow. Many Afghans would call such a move a retreat rather than an advance.
Germany has deployed 4,500 troops in northern Afghanistan and Kunduz, but when it comes to explaining its strategy, intentions or aims to its citizens, the country's head has been stuck in the sand -- even more so than most other European nations. The degree of subterfuge pursued by Berlin in front of its own people has been remarkable.