In 2008, there were about 2,000 insurgency attacks -- twice as many as in the year before. That’s what US ambassador in Kabul William Wood announced at the end of the year. The number of kidnappings rose from 150 to 300. Observers expect even more violence next year.
US President-Elect Barack Obama has placed Afghanistan at the top of his foreign policy agenda
Nobody -- not development workers, not politicians and not members of the military -- expects 2009 in Afghanistan to be any easier than 2008.
General Hans-Lothar Domröse, the NATO third in command in Afghanistan, is pessimistic: “Of course, the situation is getting worse. People are saying it will get worse before it gets better.”
There are 65,000 foreign soldiers currently in Afghanistan. Yet, the insurgency is stronger than ever -- seven years after the Taliban were toppled.
In 2008, about 270 international soldiers died in Afghanistan. Well over 1,000 civilians lost their lives in attacks or got caught in crossfire.
Afghanistan is Obama’s top priority
Afghanistan is top of President-Elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda: “Afghanistan is where the war on terror began and it is where it must end,' he said after being elected.
Obama wants to send more ground troops to Afghanistan. It is not yet clear how many, says Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Afghanistan Michael Mullen:
“Some 20,000 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now. I don’t actually have an exact number.“
30,000 would mean a doubling of the number of US troops currently in the war-torn country. They would also be tasked with ensuring security during the presidential elections that are due to take place in 2009.
The Taliban will surely try and disrupt the elections to sow doubt about the democratic legitimacy of the winner.
It remains to be seen whether the US will support the renewed candidacy of current President Hamid Karzai, who is increasingly unpopular.
Overtures to the Taliban
Karzai has made many overtures to the Taliban militants over the past year.
“If Mullah Omar accepts the Afghan constitution and agrees to take part in talks to bring stability and peace to the Afghan people, then I will negotiate with him,“ the president said earlier this year.
Some exploratory talks took place in late summer 2008, but Taliban Chief Mullah Omar announced at the end of the year that he would not negotiate with the Afghan government.
Solution cannot be purely military
Admiral Mullen believes there cannot be a purely military solution: “'It isn’t going to make any difference, after those troops get here, if we add more troops, if we haven’t made any progress on the development side and on the governance side.'
This is not a new realisation and yet even the international civilian reconstruction efforts have not yielded many lasting results so far. The drug trade is blossoming, crime is booming, and corruption in the public sector is endemic. 70 percent of Afghans have to survive on less than two dollars a day.
For 2009, Afghanistan not only needs a military strategy for fighting the Taliban. Most observers agree that only economic development can stop the radical Islamist insurgency from gaining even more ground.