KABUL, Afghanistan - NATO's top commander in Afghanistan said Sunday the country was at a tipping point and warned Afghans would likely switch their allegiance to resurgent Taliban militants if there are no visible improvements in people's lives in the next six months.
Gen. David Richards, a British officer who commands NATO's 32,000 troops here, warned in an interview with The Associated Press that if life doesn't get better over the winter, most Afghans could switch sides.
"They will say, 'We do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life that that might involve than another five years of fighting,'" Richards said.
"If we collectively ... do not exploit this winter to start achieving concrete and visible improvement," then some 70 percent of Afghans could switch sides, Richards told The Associated Press.
While Rumsfeld was busy this week trying to spread the Good News™ about what's happening in Afghanistan - touting the growth of the economy which is actually being spurred on by poppy cultivation and boasting about schools being built while the Taliban has been burning them to the ground, threatening children and killing teachers, the real situation in the country is extremely fragile.
A World Bank official derides some ministers in Karzai's dysfunctional cabinet as a "waste of space" and says he is wary of the corruption that is crippling the government. "There is corruption in the whole system," Karzai admits. "In the ministries, the NGOs, the donors' implementation of projects, in all spheres of the Afghan recovery."
It's clear that America's Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan has turned into Operation Enduring War and if the NATO chief is correct about his prediction that most Afghans would rather see the Taliban back in power - a chilling thought - it's painfully clear that the battle for hearts and minds has been lost and Canada will need to rethink its role in this NATO mission if it is to have any useful impact at all.
See also: The Truth About Afghanistan and Resurgent Taliban puts Afghanistan on brink