Afghanistan is beginning to edge Iraq out of the way in the American public's mind, largely because of increased U.S. military activity and next month's presidential elections.
The thrust of the new forces dispatched by President Barack Obama has raised the level of U.S. casualties. The death toll so far in July -- at least 35 -- is the highest monthly total since the war began in fall 2001. The administration is not promising fewer fatalities either; Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday that Americans can expect an "uptick" in casualties.
While the United States and other NATO forces are raising the ante militarily, a different approach, which says that a solution in Afghanistan must be political as well as military, is gaining currency. A high-level presentation of that view came yesterday when British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told NATO in a speech that military force was not enough and that the Afghan government should seek positive engagement with the Taliban. He maintained, in analysis that matches some observers' views since the days of Taliban rule, that it is not a monolithic, centralized organization but one with moderates as well as radicals.
A local ceasefire agreement was reached over the weekend between Afghan government and Taliban leaders in northwestern Bagdhis province, to prevail at least through the Aug. 20 elections. The presidential elections will require some level of peace and stability nationwide for the results to be considered valid. The elections will be messy, to say the least, with 40 candidates standing against President Hamid Karzai.
The United States is in a tough spot with Mr. Karzai. It considers him to be substantially less than perfect as president, but apparently does not and cannot have a favorite to replace him. A U.S. endorsement would be the kiss of death for any Afghan candidate.
Mr. Karzai has become increasingly shrill in his criticism of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan as elections approach, a predictable position for him to take. He has focused particularly on the collateral damage -- dead civilians -- that U.S. bombing and drone attacks have caused as the military has stepped up its campaign against the Taliban.
In any case, the situation in Afghanistan, already complicated and dangerous, will become even more so in the next few weeks as elections approach and the complex relationship between the Afghan government and the Taliban evolves.