- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Afghans’ good year

More terrorist attacks and illegal drug production failed to dent the progress in Afghanistan last year, as the war-weary nation fought back strongly against desperate Taliban militants while creating the fastest-growing economy in South Asia, according to U.S. Ambassador William Braucher Wood.

“I think that 2007 was a good year,” Mr. Wood told reporters in Kabul in a year-end review. “In some ways, it was a difficult year, but it was a good year.”

The year was the deadliest for Afghan civilians, Afghan security forces and for American troops since the 2001 invasion, and a year of record opium production.

Nevertheless, Mr. Wood offered an upbeat assessment, citing progress in the past three months.

The Afghan national army is meeting its recruitment goals with the aim of creating a 7,000-man force by the end of this year and growing more deadly in its pursuit of Taliban terrorists, the ambassador said.

“The Afghan army is growing rapidly in numbers and capability and professionalism,” he said. “They have played absolutely central roles, leading roles, in a number of military operations in the last three months.”

The Taliban, the former brutal rulers of Afghanistan, have been trying to regain power since the United States overthrew them after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“You all know how the fighting season went,” Mr. Wood told the reporters. “It was a year of intense fighting …. And in a series of small but important confrontations, the forces of the Taliban suffered reverse after reverse.”

One consequence of the army’s success has been the increase in terrorist attacks by the Taliban, but those actions are “signs of its weakness, not its strength,” he added.

“It means that in large parts of the country, the Taliban have despaired of winning the loyalty of the people and are now trying to intimidate them,” he said.

Mr. Wood also noted the United States increased aid to train police and rebuild a nation that is considered one of the front lines in the global war against Islamic terrorism.

One goal is to eradicate the widespread growth of poppy crops, the source of heroin and a major contributor to official corruption in Afghanistan. The Taliban also is engaged in the drug trade through the protection of drug dealers. Allied forces discovered a warehouse filled with drugs worth $500 million when they liberated the town of Musa Qala from Taliban occupation.

The good news on the economy is the phenomenal growth.

“The economy is growing at 13 percent in real terms, which makes it the fastest-growing economy in South Asia,” Mr. Wood said.

Mission to Georgia

The chairman of a key congressional human rights panel will lead an international observer team to monitor Saturday’s presidential elections in Georgia, where political turmoil last year threatened the fragile democracy in the former Soviet republic.

“The world will be watching Georgia, and it is my sincere hope that these elections are conducted in the most free, fair and transparent manner,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr. Hastings was selected to head the mission by foreign ministers Miguel Moratinos of Spain, last year’s chairman of the European-based counterpart to the congressional commission, and Ilkka Kanerva of Finland, this year’s chairman.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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