But that modest good news
is being drowned out inside the U.S. by the Taliban's continued ability
to mount high-profile attacks against American and Western targets
On Saturday, for instance, a suicide bomber rammed a
heavily armored bus in downtown Kabul, killing 12 Americans in the
highest one-day U.S. loss of life in months. The attack was the latest
in a string of militant strikes inside well-secured Kabul in recent
weeks, including an hours-long assault on the heavily-fortified U.S.
embassy, raids against a Western cultural center and well-known hotel,
and the assassination of the country's top peace negotiator and former
Many U.S. officials and outside analysts believe the
strikes are important less for pure military significance and more for
insurgents' success in eroding public and political support for the war
in Washington and other Western capitals.
In mid-October, for
instance, a CNN/ORC International poll found that U.S. support for the
war had dropped to an all-time low with 58 percent of Americans arguing
that Afghanistan was turning into another Vietnam. The poll found just
34 percent of the public said they support the Afghan war, while 57
percent said it was a mistake to send U.S. troops into the country after
the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"They're attacking the confidence of
the Afghans, the confidence of the Western publics, and the confidence
of Western governments and parliaments about the prospect of victory in
Afghanistan," said Dave Barno, a retired three-star general who served
as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and now works as a senior
fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "They're very cleverly
targeting their attacks to achieve political ends. They're trying to
control the narrative."
The apparent success of that insurgent
strategy poses a major political problem for the Obama White House,
which made Afghanistan its top foreign-policy priority and expended an
enormous amount of political capital on its decision to surge 30,000
reinforcements into the country in early 2010, a decision sharply
opposed by most Democrats in both the House and Senate, as well as by
broad swaths of the Democratic base. Heading into an election already
shadowed by the moribund economy, that decision--and its uncertain
military gains--could further depress Democratic turnout and harm Obama's
standing among war-weary independents.
For now, the White House
remains committed to its current strategy for the war, which it believes
is beginning to pay off. White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said
the administration hadn't made any changes to its withdrawal timetable
which calls for 10,000 of the surge troops to come home this year and
withdrawing the remaining troops by next September.
president's announcement this summer marked the beginning--but not the
end--of our effort to wind down the war in Afghanistan," Hayden said. "We
will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made,
while we transition responsibility for security to the Afghan