IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN….From Scotland on Sunday:

Ministers have been warned they face a “complete strategic failure” of the effort to rebuild Afghanistan and that 5,500 extra troops will be needed within months if the situation continues to deteriorate.

An explosive cocktail of feuding tribal warlords, insurgents, the remnants of the Taliban, and under-performing Afghan institutions has left the fledgling democracy on the verge of disintegration, according to analysts and senior officers.

From the Guardian:

It could take at least five years before Iraqi forces are strong enough to impose law and order on the country, the International Institute of Strategic Studies warned yesterday.

….John Chipman, IISS director, said the Iraqi security forces faced a “huge task” and the continuing ability of the insurgents to inflict mass casualties “must cast doubt on US plans to redeploy American troops and eventually reduce their numbers”.

Insurgents have killed 600 Iraqis since the new government was formed. The IISS report said: “Best estimates suggest that it will take up to five years to create anything close to an effective indigenous force able to impose and guarantee order across the country.”

Optimism and pessimism wax and wane in Iraq and Afghanistan almost as if on schedule, so it’s unwise to make too much of individual reports. Still, there’s not much question that reporting out of the region has gotten considerably gloomier over the past few months, especially so in Iraq now that the post-election euphoria has worn off.

The fact that Iraq now has a democratically elected government, fragile though it is, is genuinely good news. Unfortunately, though, it really doesn’t seem to have changed the basic strategic picture: sectarian tensions, a persistent insurgency, too few troops, stalled reconstruction efforts, and a deep-seated distrust of an occupying Christian superpower. Without some kind of fundamental turnaround in these areas it’s hard to see how we’ll ever achieve anything approaching success in Iraq, but there’s nothing on the horizon. We’re still just treading water.