Austin Bay

"As I've said in the past, it will be a bloody spring."

With that sentence, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, acknowledged that the Afghan government believes the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies will launch a "new offensive" within the next two months.

"We do expect a Taliban offensive (in Afghanistan)," Jawad told me in a phone interview conducted in late January.

NATO, which now controls security operations in Afghanistan, is gearing up for a new round of fighting, as the Himalayan snows melt.

After praising British, Australian and Canadian troops for their high quality and professionalism, Jawad expressed concern that some NATO countries have not deployed their "full pledges" of troops to Afghanistan. NATO and Afghan National Army (ANA) troops also face a shortfall in military transport helicopters.

Jawad sharply criticized Pakistan. The imminent "bloody spring" is made possible "because of the training camps operating outside Afghanistan."

"Good relations with Pakistan are important to us," he reiterated, "but at the same time, the Taliban are coming across the border, killing U.S. soldiers, destroying our roads."

This spring's Afghan campaign will have "two phases," Jawad added. "We have to be able to defend against the (Taliban) offensive once they are in country (the internal phase). On other hand, we have to prevent them (the terrorists) from coming in" (border defense, or external phase).

Preventing the terrorists from entering Afghanistan means more than having combat units covering mountain trails. The Afghan government believes Pakistan must act politically and militarily. "Pakistan must close down the training camps and shut down the (Taliban) leadership in (the Pakistani province of) Baluchistan."

That's a rather blunt signal. The Afghan government is weary of Pakistan's failure to help destroy Taliban cadres. I got the impression Kabul may not have the terror commanders' precise street addresses, but it has identified their Pakistani neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the ANA is doubling in size, from 35,000 soldiers to 70,000. Eventually, the Afghanis intend to defend their own nascent democracy. "But we (the ANA) need air transport, helicopters and fixed-wing, as well as more heavy weapons," Jawad added. "More heavy weapons" means heavy machine guns, mortars and artillery.

That is a brief sketch of the near-term "military-security line of operation."

The hidden story in Afghanistan -- and really the determinative story in this battlefield of The War on Terror -- is Afghan economic and political progress.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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