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Violence Continues in Afghanistan

With the death of Osama bin Laden in May, some legislators are pushing harder for an accelerated drawdown from Afghanistan when the U.S. withdrawal starts in July. Both top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan GEN David Petraeus, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates warned, however, that the battle there is far from over. U.S. military commanders have predicted for months that the fighting would be fierce this summer, and threats of revenge from bin Laden's followers promise even more violence.

In early May, days after bin Laden's death, the Taliban launched its first major attack of the spring fighting season in the southern city of Kandahar, shutting the city down for more than 30 hours. About 25 insurgents wounded 29 people and killed one in an assault on the provincial governor's palace, the mayor's office, the intelligence agency headquarters and many police stations before coalition forces stopped the attack. The Washington Post reported that the Taliban, in a telephone interview, said the onslaught was revenge for the killing of bin Laden. The buildings targeted, as well as the scale of the attack, imply that it was planned well in advance and that the insurgents do not lack willing volunteers.

GEN Petraeus and Secretary Gates suggested that bin Laden's death might weaken al Qaeda's influence in Afghanistan. "It could be a game-changer," Secretary Gates said in a visit to an Air Force base in North Carolina in May. GEN Petraeus, interviewed aboard his helicopter as he visited troops, told the Associated Press that "the deal between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda was between Mulla Omar and Osama bin Laden, not the organizations. Ayman al-Zawahiri [the man currently presumed to succeed bin Laden] is no Osama bin Laden."

Over the last year, coalition forces have reversed the momentum in Afghanistan and forced the insurgents onto the defensive, but the shooting of eight troops and a contractor by an Afghan airman in Kabul in late April contributed to making it one of the worst single months for the United States since the war began. Insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms launched several other attacks that month elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Iraq Update. As a wave of assassinations swept Iraq in April and early May, the Iraqi government did not request an extension of the agreed-upon final withdrawal date from Iraq, December 31. When Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited U.S. soldiers assigned to U.S. Division Center at Camp Liberty in Baghdad in April, he said, in response to a question about maintaining a military presence in Iraq, that that is up to the Iraqi government. "We are willing to have a presence beyond that time," he said, but " we 're going to need to get on with it pretty quickly."

For many Iraqis, the rising violence proves that Iraqi forces are not prepared to protect them and cannot enforce security. April's 50 targeted killings included generals and a deputy minister; among the wounded were a judge and a member of parliament. In May a car bomb killed 15 people and wounded more than 30 others in Baghdad. U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials blame the violence on rival groups vying for control in anticipation of the U.S. drawdown.

Five American troops died in combat in Iraq in April, and six died of noncombat-related causes. It was the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq since November 2009.

In other developments, in late April, DoD announced the deployment of the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade (AAB), 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., as part of an upcoming rotation of forces supporting Operation New Dawn in Iraq. The rotation for these replacement forces, totaling about 3,500 paratroopers, began in May.

The 2nd AAB, renamed from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd, will have three primary missions in Iraq: advise, assist, train and equip Iraqi security forces; conduct partnered counterterrorism operations; and support and protect civilian and military efforts focused on developing Iraqi civil and institutional capacity. …