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Taliban Pakistan attacks signal challenge for U.S.

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Increased Taliban attacks in Pakistan highlight difficulties faced by the Obama administration as it attempts to balance near-term strategy in Pakistan and longer-term stabilization measures in Afghanistan, experts say.

Violence in both countries has risen steadily in recent years. Unlike in the past, the winter months did not see the usual dip in violent attacks in Afghanistan, and the number of terrorist incidents in Pakistan doubled from 900 in 2007 to more than 1,800 in 2008, according to the Brookings Institution status report announced Monday. Suspected Taliban militants struck again Tuesday, killing at least 11 and injuring dozens in a gun and bomb attack on a luxury hotel in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Taliban militants feel they have momentum on their side, as trends in the region indicate stagnating economic development, a lack of government efficiency and a lack of hope, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a professor at Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Service.

Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, who recently led a review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Obama administration, said a militant takeover of Pakistan is not out of the question.

"The jihadists smell blood in the water," Mr. Riedel said.

Jeremy Shapiro, also of Brookings, warned that U.S. ability to influence events in Pakistan is limited. "But the capacity to effect change in Afghanistan is much greater. The U.S. has nearly 60,000 troops and eight years of experience there."

The analysts spoke upon the release of a report on U.S. policy in both nations.

"There is a tendency in Washington to focus on the urgent, which would be Pakistan," Mr. Shapiro said. "But Afghanistan is the place we need to stabilize."

The deployment of 7,000 troops in southern Afghanistan this week marks the onset of a U.S. surge strategy that will attempt to replicate recent gains in Iraq.

The Brookings report recommended that - in contrast to counterinsurgency tactics used in Iraq, which focused on reducing violence levels - progress in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region should be evaluated by measuring the state of Afghanistan's government institutions.