Iraq better off than Afghanistan: Bush


Washington : The violent situation in Afghanistan has grown worse than that in Iraq because of resilient Taliban militants and their determination to kill innocent people, US President George W. Bush said Tuesday.

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During a White House press conference, Bush said Afghanistan now looks similar to Iraq two years ago, when violence peaked and the country was on the verge of a sectarian civil war.

“One front right now is going better than the other, and that’s Iraq, where we’re succeeding,” Bush said. “And our troops are coming home based upon success.”

The Taliban has launched a major offensive in recent weeks while seeking refuge in neighbouring Pakistan, including a rash of suicide bombings that have left scores of people dead. More than three dozen people died in the July 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

“It’s a little bit reminiscent of what was taking place in Iraq a couple years ago, where, you know, the enemy knows that they can affect the mentality of the American people if they just continue to kill innocent folks,” Bush said.

The Taliban attacked a remote US military outpost near the border with Pakistan Sunday, killing nine American soldiers in the deadliest single attack on US forces in Afghanistan in three years.

“Afghanistan’s a tough fight. It’s a tough fight because, one, this is a state that had been just ravaged by previous wars, and there wasn’t a lot of central government, you know, outreach to the people,” Bush said.

The US casualty rate in Afghanistan has begun to equal, or even exceed, the rate in Iraq, where Bush’s troop surge has largely succeeded in sharply bringing down violence and US soldiers have slowly started trickling out of the country.

At the same time, the US has increased its military presence to fight the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, along with other NATO allies Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The US intends to increase its troop presence next year and has urged other NATO countries to deploy more soldiers. There are nearly 30,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan, half of them under NATO command.

US, British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch forces are in the lead combat role in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and these countries have been frustrated by the unwillingness of other NATO countries to send troops to the fighting areas.

Germany recently announced it would send 1,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, but kept in place rules that restrict them to peacekeeping and rebuilding roles in relatively safe areas of the country. France has similar rules on its troops.

The US has also been annoyed by the Pakistani government’s slow response to Al Qaeda and Taliban elements that slip across the border to evade NATO forces. The problem has been a source of tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan.