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As Petraeus exits, US interests in Afghanistan far from secured

Gen. David Petraeus is giving up command of the Afghanistan war to take charge of the CIA. Announcement of the shift comes during a bad week for NATO in Afghanistan.

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Kate Clark, writing at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, says the Taliban had promised precisely this kind of infiltration at the beginning of this month. "Whether the Taleban are now changing their strategy – or just their messaging – is not yet clear," she writes. "However, his [Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid's] threat ... will be a major worry for the international and Afghan armies, as they race to get boots on the ground and have enough Afghan security forces ready to start taking over security, beginning with three provinces and four cities in summer 2011. The rapidity of the recruitment and training helps make forces vulnerable to such attacks."

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What really happened in Kabul today? It will be days before we really know. Perhaps the Afghan pilot's murders were simply the result of snapping under a personal strain. Afghan officials say he quarreled with unidentified foreigners before his rampage. The Taliban, meanwhile, says the killer had converted to their cause and he was acting on their instructions.

But the simple facts are that such incidents are on the rise and violence has surged this spring compared with last spring. Though NATO and US briefings on Afghanistan seem to always emphasize "steady progress," the country remains as violent as ever and vaunted security gains seem tenuous. Even raw numbers on who's fighting with the US are unclear. The US Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report on April 25, for instance, that the Afghan Interior ministry doesn't know how many police it employs, or how much of the money it pays in salary is actually being lost to fraud.

Take the jailbreak from Kandahar earlier this week. A team of Taliban spent months tunneling within firing distance of the city's main prison and one mile from the police headquarters, and their activities went completely unnoticed. Kandahar, the Taliban capital when the movement ruled Afghanistan, has been the focus of an intense US effort in the past couple of years. Billions of dollars have been spent on training local police and soldiers, developing intelligence networks and making infrastructure improvements in and around the city.

Yet no American drone spotted anything untoward. No friendly informant approached the US or Afghan authorities to say something suspicious was going on. And no one, absolutely no one, reported 550-odd Taliban fighters shuffling out of the prison through the tunnel a few nights ago. An inside job? Sure, probably. But the whole story, which has now put hundreds of motivated fighters, many of whom will be eager to kill US soldiers, back into play as the main fighting season begins, points to a city that is not exactly united in opposing the Taliban.

You would have to imagine the tunneling activity, which went on for months, would have yielded signs: Strange comings and goings, equipment being brought into a home, dirt being carried out. Yet none of it was reported by locals.


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