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The Obama administration is winning the war on terror, according to Al Qaeda expert Peter Bergen.
Bergen said the high profile tensions that erupt every time Western bombs claim civilian casualties should not be regarded as a sign that the population doesn’t support the war.
“Afghans continue to blame the U.S. and NATO for any civilian casualties, because they hold us responsible — to some degree correctly — for the security environment that exists. When the Taliban goes into a bank in Jalalabad and kills 37 civilians, that doesn't get nearly the attention in Afghanistan [as when] NATO or the U.S. kill Afghan civilians.”
Security, he argued, is not nearly as bad as it seems.
“The total number of Afghan civilians being killed is quite relatively low for this type of conflict. You're more likely to be killed in Washington DC: the murder rate in Washington DC is 22 per 100,000 people. The death rate from the war in Afghanistan is 9 per 100,000. You're six times more likely to be murdered in New Orleans than you are to be killed in the war in Afghanistan right now.
“There is a war going on, but by Afghan historical standards, it doesn't even count as a war. If you think about the Soviets who killed more than a million Afghans, or if you think about the civil war that followed, in which hundreds of thousands of Afghans died, this is a relatively small conflict.”
Bergen concurred with General David Patraeus, that the Taliban has recently been “turfed out of key districts in Kandahar and Helmand, which is essentially their home base.” He cites a December 2010 BBC poll that found that 67 percent in Helmand province rated their security from crime and violence as “good,” a significant increase from the previous year.
Moreover, he pointed out that Afghans largely support the campaign against the Taliban. “In poll after poll, Afghans see their country as going in the right direction. A majority have a favorable view of international forces, including the U.S. Their big concern is that we would actually pull out in July 2011. For most Afghans that was a very worrisome idea. Luckily now the president has put December 2014 on the clock, which I think allows the Afghan National Army to build up, it allows Afghan political forces to challenge the Karzai mafia that dominates Afghan politics, and it also reassures the Afghans that we're not just going to head for the exit.”
That’s not to say that the intelligence effort against Al Qaeda, or the trillion dollar Afghan war are an unqualified success. Obviously, bin Laden is still at large, and Bergen argued that it remains imperative that he be captured or killed, given that his leadership in the movement remains powerful.
“We've spent half a trillion dollars on foreign intelligence since 9/11 and haven't found bin Laden. I think if this was a private corporation we would have fired the directors and found new ones. There are some capable people who are looking for him, but he's not making the sort of mistakes that get you caught. He's not talking on satellite phones, and he's not surrounded by the type of people who [would inform authorities] to pick up a cash reward.”
Follow David Case on Twitter: @DavidCaseReport
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