David Tate of The Fourth Rail takes a detailed look at fighting in two crucial provinces of eastern Afghanistan, Nuristan and Kunar:
The fight against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied extremists in eastern Afghanistan has heated up over the past year. According to a high-level NGO executive, al Qaeda has called for jihadis to flock to Nuristan to help push the Americans out. The open plea from al Qaeda may point to the importance Nuristan has held to the insurgency in this region along the border with Kunar province. Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom there has been no sustained, conventional Coalition or government presence in Nuristan. Emboldened by a seemingly neglectful strategy in regard to the area, Nuristan and its isolated valleys have become a comfortable home for hundreds of terrorists and other anti-government allies.
And it’s not just your typical jihadis: Tate reports that many of the attacks on US and NATO forces in Nuristan are coming from criminal gangs, including illegal loggers. (They’re lumberjacks and they’re ok? –ed. Somehow I don’t think they press wildflowers.) After years of neglect, this area that’s been described as a gateway to Kabul is seeing increased US presence for two reasons: reasonable suspicions that bin Laden himself hides out in these areas, and the ability to shift more US forces in because of NATO taking over other areas of the country. (Apparently even simian rights activist Spanish premier Zapatero hasn’t found a way to weasel out of Afghanistan.)
With the nation’s attention focused on Iraq, we often tend to forget the Afghan theater of the Long War. And yet the fight here is very important: not for Afghanistan per se, which simply doesn’t have the strategic value of Iraq, but to keep al-Qaeda from reestablishing itself in a secure haven whence it can plan its next big strike in relative safety.
Of course, that begs the question of what’s happening in next-door Waziristan, but that’s a problem for another day. One we’ll probably have to clean up, too.