The world can't ignore the Al Qaeda and Taliban threat in Afghanistan

A surge by the US and its allies is needed in the country.

A triple alarm sounded on Afghanistan last week. Three reports by reputable, nonpartisan groups in the US concluded that it's a country verging on failure. It needs more troops and aid, the reports said. The international community must step up – and soon.

Despite President Bush's encouraging remarks about this "young democracy" in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, all is not well.

Yes, hospitals and roads are being built, and boys and girls are going to school, as Mr. Bush said. But last year saw the highest casualties since the post-9/11 invasion in 2001 (mostly of insurgents), as the Taliban fights hard in the south. The former rulers can now launch suicide bomb attacks in the capital of Kabul. The war looks like a military stalemate.

The increased violence reduced the number of children attending school in Afghanistan by 50 percent in 2007, and private investment also plummeted. Meanwhile, the opium trade that bankrolls the Taliban flourishes.

So does its haven next door in Pakistan. Seven years into this war and the Taliban and Al Qaeda have regrouped and spread their control in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas. They've stepped up terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, and are blamed for the assassination of political opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. United States and European officials have traced terrorist plots in Britain, Germany, and Denmark to Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

In reality, Afghanistan and Pakistan are not two theaters in this war, but one terrorist showplace. Together, they present a terrorist breeding ground "potentially worse than before September 11th," according to "Saving Afghanistan," a report by the Atlantic Council, which was presented at a US Senate hearing Jan. 31.

Fortunately, Washington looks to be awakening to this danger. The Pentagon plans to send in 3,200 more troops and has pledged to finance an increase of 10,000 soldiers for the Afghan Army. It's successfully putting what it learned about working with tribal leaders in Iraq's Anbar Province into practice in eastern Afghanistan, where, for instance, it's funding Islamic religious schools to stem the flow of youngsters to more radical schools in Pakistan.

The US is also coordinating more closely with Pakistani intelligence. It scored a major win last week when a missile, reportedly from a US drone, killed Abu Laith al-Libi in the Pakistani tribal areas. Mr. Libi was the mastermind behind insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, including last year's bombing at Bagram Air Base during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

But what of Washington's allies? Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged his friends in NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan, especially to the hot war in the south. (The US contributes a third of the 42,000 NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan.) But the public in these countries blindly believe they have no dog in this fight and are pressing their governments to get out.

And what of Pakistan? Is President Pervez Musharraf serious this time about routing out terrorists now that they've focused on his own nuclear-armed country?

The alarm has sounded. The US is responding more forcefully. Its allies must follow.

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