Morale plummets in Afghanistan, Taliban lay siege to Kandahar

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A startling new study about U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan shows the lowest morale of the past five years among soldiers fighting there. USA Today reports that less than half of the troops there describe morale as high — a 20 percent drop from 2005. Troops there also report more intense fighting in Afghanistan now than during the 2007 surge in Iraq.

The paper says 75 percent of soldiers in Afghanistan have witnessed the death or wounding of a buddy and half said they had been close to a roadside bomb explosion. The paper says mental health strain is most intense among troops with three or more combat deployments. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli calls this amount of stress on the force for a decade “uncharted territory” for the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, everybody is reporting how the Taliban essentially invaded the southern city of Kandahar over the weekend and put the town under siege for 30 hours. The New York Times put it like this:

For more than 30 hours over the weekend, the Taliban immobilized the southern city of Kandahar, unleashing multiple attacks with small arms and suicide bombers near the city’s downtown, pinning down people in their homes, forcing shops to close and halting most traffic.

In contrast to the steady, downward trend in the mental health of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Kandahar fight shows the seesaw of progress and then setbacks in Afghanistan that has become impossible to track after a decade of fighting.

Here is the Washington Post reporting on the Kandahar area last October:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said allied forces are in the “final stages” of a large operation to clear insurgent fighters from key regions just west of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and principal focus of the coalition’s military campaign against the Taliban

And then this…

Petraeus and his subordinate commanders have been reluctant to trumpet their efforts in Kandahar out of concern that early claims of success could prove embarrassing if insurgents find a way to regroup and attack coalition forces, as some U.S. Marine officers learned during the large assault earlier this year in the Marja district of neighboring Helmand province.

I guess this is proving embarrassing. And depressing.