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Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing,

There is a field, I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
even the words "you" and "I" do not exist. – Rumi

Afghanistan is sinking back into chaos and repression, especially in the Southern reaches where weak warlords and complicit officials have allowed the Taliban to retake power in exchange for some false sense of temporary stability as the repressive regime consolidates its stranglehold on the region and marches, ever onward, toward the prize of Kabul.

We gave our word when we invaded Afghanistan that the Taliban would be routed and that the repressive regime would be lifted so that young girls in the country would have a life outside layers and layers of forced cloth, so that they could have the hope of an education and some semblence of a potential future that allowed for them to make some choices about its course.  We gave our word.

This is what we have today:

Clutching scarves nervously around their faces, the women whispered details of Taliban atrocities taking place in their native Helmand province: A translator's body found in a sack, carved into pieces. A police officer taken hostage, blinded and garroted with wire. A woman shot and hanged by her thumbs.

"All of our lives are in danger now. Our schools are shut, and anyone who works for the government is branded as an infidel," said Ma Gul, 52, a teacher who traveled to the capital this week with 20 other women from Greshk, a town in Helmand 300 miles south, to demand better protection and the removal of weak regional officials.

Gul's woes echo across this country's four southern provinces, where the Taliban insurgency is on a fierce rebound five years after U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Islamic militia from power in Kabul. Months of aggressive ground combat and NATO airstrikes have failed to halt continuous violence in the south, as well as some sporadic attacks in other parts of the country.

According to a new report by a commission of Afghan and foreign officials, insurgent and terrorist attacks nationwide have increased fourfold in the past year, reaching 600 incidents per month by September and causing 3,700 deaths since January.

The report was issued by a group called the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, set up in February under U.N. auspices to promote and measure Afghan government performance. It said the violence threatens to reverse recent economic and political gains across the nation, and has led to a partial or total withdrawal of foreign aid in some provinces.

The Afghanistan that could have been, with its possibilities of hope and justice, is slipping away from us, and like sand grains scouring across the surface of a mirror, it leaves a reflection of our nation's soul — our lack of commitment, the breaking of our word…again…to these people who have lived under constant seige for decades with the promise that America would stand up for them — that has deeply marred flaws.

In Kabul, things are a bit better.  The WaPo has done a series of interviews with women there who are enjoying, for the first time in decades, some freedoms that had been long tucked away.  Watching these videos and knowing what is going on for their sisters and brothers in the south is wrenching. 

Knowing that this could again be the future of Kabul is infuriating.

The BBC News has been closely following the plight of Afghan women in a series of articles since the invasion of that nation after 9/11/01.  One of the latest focused on a survey done by an international human rights group regarding some attempt to measure progress — or lack thereof — for Afghan women.  And the results are not what one would have hoped, some five years later.

Further, the BBC has embedded a reporter with British troops fighting in the Helmland area against Taliban forces.  His diaries of that time period are a bit of a glimpse of the day to day life of British forces and Taliban insurgency.  The conditions are harsh, the terrain is difficult, and the Tailban is a formidable force — and they ought to be, considering we trained them in insurgency tactics back in the days of the Soviet invasion — and they ought not ever be underestimated.  Tony Blair's recent visit to the war-torn nation has only served to underscore the stretched thin nature of troop levels there — both for Britain and for the US, and the few remaining allies we have left in that nation.

Afghanistan was cast aside by George Bush in his quest to topple Saddam Hussein…for whatever misguided, unsupported and unsubstantiated reasons, Iraq was the goal, and the land that had long served as a haven to al qaeda and Bin Laden's hatred of the West became a forgotten dusty relic for everyone but the troops we left behind there to clean up after our mess.  We caught Saddam Hussein well over a year ago, he was convicted last month in a messy show trial…and Iraq is still a mess.  Osama Bin Laden and his surrogates are still at large, and Pakistan is reportedly allowing the Taliban fighters who are injured in skirmishes with allied troops in Afghanistan to be treated in safe-houses across the border.

We have lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the peoples of this region by our sheer neglect of the issues that matter to them:  decent roads, food, shelter, economic prospects…keeping our word.  Any of these things would have done wonders — both in Afghanistan and also in Iraq early on — but because George Bush's Administration failed to adequately plan for the aftermath of the boom-boom portion of the invasion (you know, that point where the really hard work sets in…), we are now reaping a whirlwind of grief in a whole lot of places.

We cannot continue to have a foreign policy that is so haphazard, so piecemeal…so lazy and personally driven.  We cannot wage war on the cheap, and we cannot continue this ignorant failure to reach out to experts in the State Department and elsewhere in the government for help on rebuilding and nation-sustaining actions because the civilians running the Pentagon desire their own personal feifdom.  These decisions — or the lack thereof — have long-term consequences, for our current world and for the future, as what we do, or undo, ripples outward into the generations to come.  And the utter lack of accountability up to now has dire consequences for us all.

Five years after the American-led invasion, the infrastructure still lies shattered, with accusations of international aid being squandered. Meanwhile, the rights of half the population, women, are being steadily clawed back under the burqa.

Afghanistan is also where Western forces, in large numbers, are fighting a war which George Bush and Mr Blair had declared won with the fall of the Taliban regime as they moved the "war on terror" to Iraq.

The Taliban are back with a vengeance now and there is little talk of victory. Nato troops have inflicted heavy casualties on the insurgents, but military commanders talk of reinforcements coming from across the Pakistani border….

We gave our word to Afghanistan.  It is time we kept it.