WASHINGTON -- Racing through the Phoenix airport, a Wall Street Journal headline immediately captured my eye: "Taliban Now Winning." I grabbed the newspaper and headed for my flight. By the time I arrived in Washington, I had a half-dozen e-mails from my Fox News colleagues asking for my assessment of the situation. There was also a "be prepared" message from my boss alerting me to pack my kit for another trip to the Hindu Kush. Seeing as I haven't been there for a year, it seemed like a good time to get smart about what's happening behind the headlines.
Here is some of what I learned from those now on the ground -- including our Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot and cameraman Mal James -- some of the troops who have returned recently, and others getting ready to go:
First, there is no doubt that allied casualties in Afghanistan have spiked from a year ago. Last month, 76 coalition troops were killed in action, including 45 Americans. The toll for August is likely to be even higher.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, predicted higher casualty rates as the number of U.S. and allied troops "in-country" climbed and "optempo" increased. There are 30,000 more American soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines on the ground today than there were when I was there last year. For the first time since Operation Enduring Freedom began, in 2001, the International Security Assistance Force numbers more than 100,000 troops, and that includes 62,000 Americans.
Second, U.S. and coalition forces are pushing into Taliban strongholds, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where there has been little or no Afghan government or ISAF presence for years. On July 2, U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers launched Operation Khanjar (Sword Thrust) into southern Helmand, while a parallel column spearheaded into neighboring Kandahar province. Faced with the prospect of losing control over heroin production areas that finance their insurgency, the Taliban decided to stand and fight instead of melting away.
Third, next week's presidential and provincial council elections have precipitated a last-ditch attempt by the Taliban to disrupt the balloting. Seventeen million of Afghanistan's 33 million people have registered to vote Aug. 20. Countrywide, there are more than 3,000 candidates vying for 420 seats on the provincial legislatures. Among the contenders are 300 women, a fact that has driven the misogynist Taliban leadership over the brink.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.