The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will take over military operations from the United States in southern Afghanistan just as August 2006 arrives. Twenty-six member states approved sending nearly 8,000 additional troops to southern Afghanistan in what would become the largest combat operation in 57-years for NATO. The number of ground troops will swell to more than 18,000 to date. Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO troops will not fail.
James Appathurai, a spokesman for NATO, said the increase in troops shows NATO's commitment to Afghanistan. "They can defend themselves aggressively and if necessary preemptively. But their mission is not simply to go out and hunt the terrorist leadership." Appathurai said terrorist cleanup was the role of the United States and its allies positioned in Afghanistan since early October 2001.
The Taliban, once thought eliminated by the United States under Operation Enduring Freedom in November 2001, has once again taken hold in southern Afghanistan with increased violence resulting in a death toll of 1,700 civilians from January through July 2006 alone. Military casualties to date stand at 417, with the number of military deaths so far on track in 2006 to become the operation's deadliest year.
Military personnel presently in Afghanistan from Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands would fall under NATO command 31 July 2006.
The United States military will continue to hunt Osama bin Laden, a task begun 1,781 days ago following 11 September 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington DC. The former Afghanistan ruling Taliban party head, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is also at large.
Australia to Send More Troops
News reports in Australia have confirmed that nation too will send more troops to Afghanistan, bolstering its present coalition force with the United States amidst growing violence. Australia has sent up to 300 troops to Afghanistan as of March 2006 and expects to add 240 new troops in the coming week.
Australia contends the troops will mostly focus upon reconstruction efforts. Australia security forces report that Taliban roam freely across southern Afghanistan. Foreign minister Alexander Downer said security conditions have grown much worse in recent weeks.
Intelligence officers from Australia's military predict that with the highly publicized shift from United States enforcement over to NATO troops that militants in Afghanistan can easily take advantage and increase attacks.
One military spokesman, who did not reveal his identity to Australia's ABC news for security reasons, said villagers across southern Afghanistan are losing faith in Operation Enduring Freedom and turning more in favor of Taliban support for their own safety.
Others worry that NATO forces lack the strategic knowledge and equipment of the United States military and fear that during the transition period violence could escalate to new heights not seen since the United States invaded.
Military strategist Michael Williams told ABC Australia that the Taliban has regrouped, gathered support, and operates freely from Pakistan. Williams expects increased casualties and warns that in a worst case, NATO troops hide out in the safety of military bases rather than battle militants.
RadioFreeEurope journalists report that the Taliban is stronger than originally thought. Author and researcher journalist Ahmed Rashid said that while the United States may report killing dozens of Taliban each day, the former Afghanistan ruling party is capturing whole towns including the larger city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
Afghanistan former cabinet minister Hamidullah Tarzi contends that the number of military mistakes made by the coalition forces since 2001 --one of which was having ignored the southern region until now-- has caused greater insecurity in the whole country.
The biggest problem all along, according to observer Rahimullah Yusafzai, was that the United States never defeated the Taliban outside of Kabul, he told RadioFreeEurope.
Appathurai said that the best way to defeat the Taliban would be to stabilize the country by training the Afghan National Army.
Since November 2001 some 28,000 troops have been trained, however they lack equipment Appathurai said. The nation's national police force lags behind the army in numbers and resources. "Much more needs to be done to support the development of the Afghan National Police. They are a critical pillar of the Afghan security establishment," he said.
Afghanistan reconstruction efforts have also missed targets and disappointed government officials. Appathurai said corruption is rife in the newly elected government and President Hamid Karzai should remove those officials suspected of corruption immediately.
However, ahead of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, President Karzai approved setting up what was called by the Taliban a "vice-and-virtue department." During Taliban rule police from the vice-and-virtue department patrolled the streets and arrested men who did not have long-enough beards, and women who were not being escorted by a male relative. President Karzai is said to have given into pressure by and Islamic council, which ordered resurrection of the department to prevent further influences of Western culture taking hold. Afghanistan's Interior Minister, the Ministry of Hajj, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Supreme Court drafted the proposal.
The measure awaits Parliament's approval in coming weeks.
The vice-and-virtue department, as it is written, is expected to employ religious police who would enforce alcohol, drug, and prostitution restrictions. Critics of President Karzai claim at best the choice of words was alarming for the vice-and-virtue department was one of the most abusive practices under the Taliban.
Human Rights Watch of New York took issue with the president's choice of words too. Zama Coursen-Neff, a senior researcher with the group, said that females across Afghanistan are facing greater insecurity than two years ago, and it is even more important than ever for its government to improve the quality of life not limit it. Coursen-Neff added that by reinstating such a controversial name only adds more grief to a country battling daily violence.
According to one aid of the Supreme Court, Haji Khafru, the president supported re-establishing a vice-and-virtue department because in an Islamic society getting drunk and visiting a brothel is unacceptable behavior. He suggested the model is not following the Taliban's enforcement and instead would send offenders to a Mosque.
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