If the affiliations of Afghanistan's warlords are based on a simple calculation - on which side appears likely to win - the odds are now stacking up heavily against the government in Kabul and its western backers. Reporting from Herat in western Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal told the story of one warlord who has switched sides. "Ghulam Yahya, a former mayor of this ancient city along the Silk Road, battled the Taliban for years and worked hand in hand with western officials to rebuild the country's industrial hub. "Now, Mr Yahya is firing rockets at the Herat airport and nearby coalition military headquarters. He has kidnapped soldiers and foreign contractors, claimed the downing of an Afghan army helicopter and planted bombs in central Herat - including one that killed a district police chief and more than a dozen bystanders last month. "Mr Yahya's stranglehold over the outskirts of Herat has destabilised a former oasis of calm and relative prosperity. 'The security situation here is critical,' said Herat's current mayor, Mohammed Salim Taraki. "The warlord's odyssey from friend to foe shows how disillusionment with the western-backed administration of President Hamid Karzai has pushed even some former enemies of the Taliban into the insurgency. Violence is rapidly spreading beyond the ethnic Pashtun heartland of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where much of the countryside already is in rebel hands, into parts of the country that were considered safe just a few months ago." The Washington Post reported: "US military officials differ on the extent of Taliban success and the reasons for it. Senior US commanders in eastern Afghanistan, where insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani's network is dominant, said that the sophistication of the insurgents' attacks had increased markedly, beginning with bloody battles along the Pakistani border last summer. To many of the Americans, it appeared as if the insurgents had attended something akin to the US Army's Ranger school, which teaches soldiers how to fight in small groups in austere environments. " 'In some cases ... we started to see that enhanced form of attack,' said one Army general who oversaw forces in Afghanistan until earlier in the summer. As attacks in the east have increased this year, some officers have speculated that the insurgents are getting more direct help from professional fighters from Arab and Central Asian countries. These embedded trainers, the officers said, play almost the same role as US military training teams that live with and mentor Afghan government forces. "In recent months, the Taliban fighters have used mortars to force US troops into defensive positions, where they are then hit with rocket-propelled grenades, rifles and machine guns. Insurgent units have learned to maintain 'radio silence' as they move and to wet down the ground to prevent dusty recoil that would make them targets. They have 'developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force,' including treating casualties, the Army general said." As the United States struggles to reverse its fortunes in what domestically has become an increasingly unpopular war, the Pentagon is reported to be planning to boost the number of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan without increasing its overall force size. The Los Angeles Times said: "US officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defence officials say. "The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of US troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan. "The plan represents a key step in the Obama administration's drive to counter Taliban gains and demonstrate progress in the war nearly eight years after it began." The reported expansion of the US combat force comes at the same time that the top US commander in Afghanistan has presented his proposals for a fresh strategy in the war. "In a brief statement about his internal report, released by the command in Afghanistan, Army Gen Stanley A McChrystal acknowledged that turning the war around would be difficult," the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday. " 'The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,' McChrystal said. "In his report, which was prepared for military leaders, McChrystal did not specifically recommend a troop increase, instead spelling out plans to intensify development of Afghan security forces, improve the country's government and refocus economic development initiatives, according to a description by Nato officials. "But McChrystal is widely expected among military officials to seek extra troops, and experts said Monday that his assessment would almost certainly lead to such a request in coming months." While there are political constraints on how many soldiers the US government is willing to deploy in what may become the longest war America has ever fought, the majority of the Pentagon's employees in Afghanistan are not under military command. The New York Times reported: "Civilian contractors working for the Pentagon in Afghanistan not only outnumber the uniformed troops, according to a report by a Congressional research group, but also form the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel recorded in any war in the history of the United States. "On a superficial level, the shift means that most of those representing the United States in the war will be wearing the scruffy cargo pants, polo shirts, baseball caps and other casual accouterments favored by overseas contractors rather than the fatigues and flight suits of the military. "More fundamentally, the contractors who are a majority of the force in what has become the most important American enterprise abroad are subject to lines of authority that are less clear-cut than they are for their military colleagues. "What is clear, the report says, is that when contractors for the Pentagon or other agencies are not properly managed - as when civilian interrogators committed abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq or members of the security firm Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqi citizens in Baghdad - the American effort can be severely undermined."
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