“The tide of war,” President Barack Obama said of Afghanistan earlier this month, “is receding.” The storming on Wednesday of the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which claimed the lives of 12 civilians, was a sharp riposte. Believed to have been carried out by a suicide squad despatched by the Taliban-affiliated warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani, the assault isn't the most lethal the country has seen this summer: suicide attacks, bombings, and ambushes continue reaping the lives of Afghans in ever greater numbers. In a report released this week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said violence in Afghanistan caused 2,950 civilian casualties, including 1,090 deaths, in the last three months — up a dramatic 20 per cent from the number for the same period in 2010. It said anti-government forces were responsible for eight in ten of the killings; one-tenth were caused by Afghan and allied forces; and a tenth could not be attributed to either side. Noting that “suicide attacks have increased significantly since March,” the report observes that “abductions and assassinations of Afghan citizens also rose.” Fighting has escalated in the country's east, and jihadist groups like the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan are reported to have an increasing operational capability in the north, an area long considered relatively peaceful.
Earlier this month, Mr. Obama announced a schedule for the withdrawal of 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, a precursor to a final pullout. His claims notwithstanding, Afghanistan is being left to its fate: none of the strategies intended to lay stable foundations for the future has worked. Last year's surge of troops did cause heavy attrition among the Taliban, but failed to contain violence. The United States and its allies, which have now held three rounds of meetings with interlocutors for the Taliban in Europe and the United Arab Emirates, also hoped the surge would push the jihadists into agreeing to a peace deal. However, secure in the knowledge that its superpower adversary is leaving, the Taliban have good reason to escalate violence — suffering attrition in the hope of demonstrating to its supporters that it drove the U.S. out, and to its enemies, that its rise is inexorable. Islamabad, in turn, continues to shelter and fund the Jalaluddin Haqqani network as well as other Taliban elements, in return for their help in battling jihadists seeking to overthrow the Pakistani state. In the months to come, more blood will be spilt as both Afghan jihadists and their adversaries compete to secure their positions in anticipation of the final U.S. pullout. Barring a miracle, Afghanistan has little to look forward to other than a rising tide of blood.