, WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two years ago, when U.S. bombers attacked Afghanistan, President Bush spoke boldly of toppling the Taliban and replacing its radical Islamic regime with a democratic government that wouldn't support Al-Qaida terrorists.
Six months later, in an address at the Virginia Military Institute, Bush presented his vision of a new Afghanistan and compared the U.S. reconstruction effort there with the extensive rebuilding of Europe after World War II.
“We will stay until the mission is done,” he said. “We know that true peace will only be achieved when we give the Afghan people the means to achieve their own aspirations.”
But then came the war in Iraq.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the postwar occupation are proving more costly and complex than anticipated.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai clings to power in Kabul, warlords run security outside the capital, and the Taliban is making a comeback.
Afghanistan has recently endured some of the worst violence since the U.S.-led forces routed the Taliban regime in late 2001. More than 300 people have been killed since early August, rival militias are clashing in the north and local political leaders are being kidnapped or assassinated.
Zalmay Kahlilzad, the special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, warned Tuesday in Kabul that Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters might be planning larger or “more spectacular attacks” as part of a campaign against the U.S.-led reconstruction effort.
Some analysts, including several who have helped Washington craft its policy there, fear that Afghanistan has been left adrift in a dangerous and volatile part of the world.
Not on radar screen
As they watch billions of dollars flow into Iraq to support a 116,000-strong U.S. military force, the experts wonder whether the other war — the one that was supposed to be the first strike in the global war on terrorism — has become the forgotten war.
“Things aren't going as well as we want,” said Larry Goodson, author of a 2001 book about Afghanistan and professor of Middle East studies at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. “Afghanistan has flipped off the radar screen to some extent.”
Goodson said he has spoken in recent weeks with Karzai and with U.S. military commanders, who contend that Afghanistan isn't getting the kind of attention — or money — it deserves.
“This is a country that's as large as Iraq in terms of population, just as central to its region in terms of its relationship with neighboring countries, with an equal threat to the U.S. goal of disbanding Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and militant Islamic radicals in the region,” Goodson said. “Yet Iraq is getting a great deal of media attention and the lion's share of financial resources.”
Thomas Gouttierre, dean of international studies at the University of Nebraska, points out that the $87 billion emergency funding bill requested by the president and now before Congress seeks a little more than $1 billion for Afghanistan. The rest would go to Iraq.
“Any Afghan who follows the news closely can see that imbalance and draw his own conclusions,” he said.
Gouttierre, who is scheduled to leave Monday for his fifth visit to Afghanistan since Karzai was chosen in June 2002 to head the provisional government, has seen some progress in Afghanistan: