Washington, D.C.—Seven years into the Afghanistan war, America faces resurgent Taliban and Islamist forces carrying out more daring and increasingly deadly attacks on U.S. troops. Suicide bombings, once rare, are a commonplace in Afghanistan. According to news reports, the number of roadside bombs has been climbing (from 1,931 in 2006 to 2,615 last year). More Americans died in Afghanistan this year, so far, than did in the first three years of the war, combined.

Appearing before Congress, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported, with signal understatement, that he’s “not convinced we’re winning in Afghanistan.”

Why has this war—once thought of as the right war—gone so wrong?

U.S. military and intelligence officials have pointed to the tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistan border as a source of the problem. The region is a safe haven for Islamists, where they train, plot and launch attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan (and on targets in the West). Many officials suspect Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, of colluding with the Islamists and allowing them sanctuary, and complain that Pakistan’s government—a supposed U.S. ally—has failed to do enough to root out the Islamists. The remedy now being pushed in Washington involves sending U.S. Special Operations forces on raids in the tribal areas (as recently happened) and deploying several thousand more troops in Afghanistan.

But while there’s reason to believe Islamists enjoy the support of Pakistan’s intelligence services and military, this is far from the fundamental reason why, despite a U.S. war against them, the Islamists are resurgent in Afghanistan. This nightmare is yet another result of Washington’s broader “compassionate” war.

From the beginning, our military was ordered to pursue Taliban fighters only if it simultaneously showed “compassion” to the Afghans. The U.S. military dropped bombs—but instead of ruthlessly pounding key targets, it was ordered gingerly to avoid hitting holy shrines and mosques (known to be Taliban hideouts) and to shower the country with food packages. And even more so today, according to a report by the New York Times, “vast numbers of public, religious and historic sites make up a computer database of no-strike zones” while Air Force lawyers vet all air strikes. The U.S. deployed ground forces—but instead of focusing exclusively on capturing or killing the enemy, they were also diverted to “reconstruction” projects for the sake of the Afghan population.

The Bush administration allowed the enablers of bin Laden to flee and find a welcome home in Pakistan’s tribal region, where they regrouped. Washington then passed off to Pakistan the dirty work of rooting them out. Given that Pakistan had helped create and put the Taliban in power, it should be no surprise that the Islamists there have grown stronger. (They feel themselves so safe that they hold press conferences and give interviews by cell phone.)

The half-hearted war in Afghanistan failed to smash the Taliban and al Qaeda. Instead of defeating them, Washington’s timid war scattered the Islamist forces and left them with the moral fortitude to regroup and launch a brazen comeback. What we need is a war policy that proudly places America’s interests as its exclusive moral concern and ruthlessly destroys our enemies.

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