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Story Updates: Afghanistan
DOD photo of Afghanistan
November 14, 2008

Americans seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan — distracted by Iraq, the election and a collapsing economy. Over the past several months the situation in Afghanistan has steadily deteriorated. Considered variously as the forgotten war, the good war, and now the deadlier war, the battle against the Taliban-led insurgency has become increasingly difficult and according to military and diplomatic sources, achieving US goals, increasingly uncertain.

In June of 2007, Christian Parenti, a journalist who has made numerous trips to Afghanistan, gave Bill Moyers a first-hand account of Afghanistan's slide into violence:

Each time I've gone there, the Taliban control more and more territory. And what's particularly disturbing is that the Taliban even have a type of default popular support among people who originally supported the government. And it's not that many people who are starting to support the Taliban like the Taliban program, but they've become so frustrated with the corruption and criminality of the Kabul government.
>>Watch the full interview with Christian Parenti

Afghanistan supplies 93 percent of the world's opiates, and analysts estimate the Taliban could make $70 million from the opium trade this year.

In February 2008, former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes explained to Bill Moyers that the reason many Afghans reluctantly decide to grow opium is that they face few other choices:

Afghans need credit, just as much as we do. They can't get it. And so, they borrow money. They need to marry off their sons, for example. It's going cost them $5,000 or $10,000. They have to pay a bride price. They have to have a feast for the entire village. Where are they going get that money? So they turn to the opium trafficker, who lends them money. And he demands repayment in opium.

Eliminating opium would cut off a major source of funding for the Taliban, and is a top U.S. priority. Yet, many Afghan farmers rely on opium as their only meager income, and when the United States or the central government eradicate their crop, Sarah Chayes explained, "They join the Taliban. I mean, it's the biggest gift we could possibly do for the insurgency. What else would they do? They're furious. Their livelihood is taken away. Their children might be poisoned. Or they might think their children are poisoned. They join the Taliban. They take revenge."

>>Watch Sarah Chayes interview and hear her plan for Afghanistan

A new FRONTLINE report, "The War Briefing," paints Afghanistan as a strategically important country that has long defied the control of foreign rulers. According to experts interviewed by FRONTLINE, the United States is only the most recent great power to attempt to tame the region, and is running out of time to stop the growing power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it may be in nuclear-armed Pakistan that an emboldened Taliban poses the greatest threat to U.S. interests.

U.S. fortunes in Afghanistan depend heavily on Pakistan. As Dexter Filkins reports in the NEW YORK TIMES:

Pakistan's wild, largely ungoverned tribal areas have become an untouchable base for Islamic militants to attack Americans and Afghans across the border. Inside the tribal areas, Taliban warlords have taken near-total control, pushing aside the Pakistani government and imposing their Draconian form of Islam. And for more than a year now, they have been sending suicide bombers against government and military targets in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people.
And yet, the Pakistani government, which has received billions of dollars in aid as a U.S. ally in the War on Terror, historically holds close ties to the militants, as Filkins explains:
For years, the survival of Pakistan's military and civilian leaders has depended on a double game: assuring the United States that they were vigorously repressing Islamic militants — and in some cases actually doing so — while simultaneously tolerating and assisting the same militants. From the anti-Soviet fighters of the 1980s and the Taliban of the 1990s to the homegrown militants of today, Pakistan's leaders have been both public enemies and private friends.
Recently the militants inside Pakistan show signs of being outside of the Pakistani government's control. The Taliban has launched several suicide attacks inside Pakistan, including, some believe, the bombing that killed Benazir Bhutto.

Security experts were already worried that Pakistan, a nuclear power of 170 million people, was on the brink of becoming a failed state when the global financial crisis hit. Now, Pakistan is reluctantly in talks with IMF to prevent a financial collapse that could have grave repercussions for the region and beyond.

Published October 31, 2008.

Related Media:
FBI Domestic Spy PosterSarah Chayes
Sarah Chayes, author and former journalist who has been helping rebuild Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime, with a look at the front lines of America's war there. (February 22, 2008)

FBI Domestic Spy PosterChristian Parenti
Journalist Christian Parenti, back from his fourth visit to the forgotten frontline, speaks to Moyers about the growing influence of warlords in government and the resurgence of the Taliban (June 8, 2007)

FBI Domestic Spy PosterThe War Briefing
FRONTLINE producer Marcela Gaviria and correspondent Martin Smith offer harrowing on-the-ground reporting from the deadliest battlefield in the mountains of Afghanistan, and follow the trail to the militant safe havens deep inside the Pakistani tribal areas, probing some of the most urgent foreign policy challenges facing the next president. (October 28, 2008)

References and Reading:
"U.S. Study Is Said to Warn of Crisis in Afghanistan"
By Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 8, 2008.

"Pacify Afghanistan Takes More Than Guns"
Speech by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, October 17, 2008.

"In strikes on US in Afghanistan, Taliban reveals new potency"
By David Montero, October 28, 2008.

"Afghanistan And Pakistan's Embattled Frontier"
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, October 13, 2008.

"The perils of delivering aid"
by Sarah Chayes, GLOBE AND MAIL, August 15, 2008.

"From Great Game to Grand Bargain"
by Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid FOREIGN AFFAIRS, November/December 2008.

"Countering the Taleban's 20-year war"
by Nir Rosen, ROLLING STONE, October 30, 2008.

"Despite Precautions, U.S. Airstrikes Kill Afghan Allies"
by Noah Schactman, WIRED: DANGER ROOM, October 22, 2008.

"Afghans to Karzai: You failed us."
By Mark Sappenfield, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, October 30, 2008.

"How We Lost the War We Won"
by Nir Rosen, October 30, 2008.

"Reports Link Karzai's Brother to Afghanistan Heroin Trade"
By James Risen, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 4, 2008.

"AP NewsBreak: US, UN differ on Afghan opium ebb"
By Matthew Lee, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, October 31, 2008.

"The Opium Brides of Afghanistan"
By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, NEWSWEEK, Apr 7, 2008.

"Right at the Edge"
By Dexter Filkins, THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 5, 2008.

" More shocks for shattered Pakistan"
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, THE ASIA TIMES, October 31, 2008.

"Pakistan has no alternative to taking IMF money - adviser"
By Sahar Ahmed, REUTERS, October 30, 2008.

"Pakistan Protests U.S. Attacks Within Its Borders"
By Jane Perlez, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 29, 2008.

"Danger Ahead for the Most Dangerous Place in the World"
By Sumit Ganguly, THE WASHINGTON POST, October 12, 2008.

"Pakistan's financial crisis may shake the world"
By Martin Sieff, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL, October 21, 2008.

"Official: Pakistan quake death toll rises to 215"
By Ashraf Khan, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, October 30, 2008.

Published October 31, 2008

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