Afghanistan May Trump Iraq in War Debate

Schloesser and other military officials describe the "safe haven" in Pakistan as a major factor for the increase in violence in eastern Afghanistan as insurgents are able to easily slip back and forth along the border into Afghanistan. The safe haven was created by ceasefire agreements negotiated by the Pakistani government with tribal leaders.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cited a "relaxation of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border" by the Pakistani government to describe what happened in the tribal areas as a result of those agreements. He has urged Pakistan to focus their energies on militants that can also be a threat to their security. That focus is complicated by the cloudy political situation in Pakistan as President Musharaff's political opponents are now running the government.

Gen. McNeill told reporters, "There's a certain amount of dysfunction that exists in Islamabad right now" and that it is difficult for Pakistanis "to figure out who exactly is in charge of the government."

There are now more foreign troops in Afghanistan than ever before; in addition to the 32,000 U.S. forces there are an almost equal number of NATO forces.

The recent arrival of 3,200 Marines in southern and western Afghanistan has led to an increase in fighting in those parts of the country.

The surge in violence was expected in Helmand Province as Marine combat forces launched offensive operations to take back control of areas long controlled by Taliban fighters.

But the spike in violence was unexpected in Farah Province in western Afghanistan, where Marines were sent to train local security forces. Nearly a third of June's fatalities took place in this once quiet western province. A senior defense official tells ABCNEWS that there has been a new flow of Taliban forces into Farah Province from Helmand Province to take advantage of a lower security troop presence there in order to launch increased attacks against coalition troops.

And it appears those Taliban attacks are getting more complex and sophisticated. Maj. Gen. Schloesser said roadside bomb attacks are now accompanied by small arms fire or ambushes on forces coming to assist other units that have been attacked. A deadly attack last week that killed three American soldiers and an Afghan interpreter involved just such an incident.

Some 2,200 Marines had their seven-month combat tours extended last week by a month, another indicator that there still aren't enough troops to build on the Marines' offensive success in southern Afghanistan. The extension was something that Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen had repeatedly said would not occur.

A senior defense official tells ABCNEWS that he expects a continued rise in violence in Afghanistan this year, topping last year's level. That's just another sign that in 2009 the political debate over the presence of US troops overseas will be about Afghanistan just as much as it will be about Iraq.

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