US troops saw off August with the highest death toll so far, leaving 51 killed and many more on DI list. The administration officials were upset but most indulged in intricate meditation, including General McChrystal, about the grilling ground realities. In a recent briefing, the general held out a hope that US could save the day if his strategy was properly implemented. Prima facie, the perforated presidential poll sent quite a shock-wave. This was reflected by the shouting-match between Advisor Holbrooke, and Karzai in Kabul over the issue. Now it is clear that the Taliban controlled the conduct of the polls in two ways. First, they used threats to ask the Afghans to boycott the voting. Second, they trailed terror in many places but Kabul suffered the worst hits including those on NATO HQ/Presidential Palace which sent out magnified danger signals. As if this was not enough, the rigging, which became the major bone of contention among the candidates, made it look like a farce. This should have a damning effect on the status quo and its advocates. In the wake of the above scenario, the carnage in Kunduz by the US jets appears to be yet another monstrous setback for the foreign troops. While the local Afghans put the figure at 125 dead, the others tended to reduce the number on the plea that only an 'investigation' would determine the damage done. On the fateful last Friday, two of the fuel-tankers got stuck in the Kunduz River which were abandoned by the drivers. The Taliban team, as per the local sources, went and called the local civilians to take petrol away gratis for their benefit. As per Haji Mohayodin, an elder of the Yaqoubi village: "Our people are jobless and poor, so everyone rushed to the trucks to get as much fuel as they could," while indicating that some Taliban were also present. The Washington Post conceded about 125 people had died and it appeared that the German Commander, Col Klein, imagining a colossal threat, acted in disregard of the instructions. Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, also supported the version given by major world media. The German Foreign Minister, Franz Jung, supported his own commander while UK/France advised a cautious approach to the use of air-power. An AP report of September 7 indicates that the controversy is growing. General McChrystal visited the setting on September 5 and asked Klein: "Why didn't RC-North come here quicker?" To which the latter replied: "I can honestly say it was a mistake," in the presence of the AP reporter. German troops have been looked upon as being blas. "They're as oriented toward staying in their armoured vehicles as any group I've met," Anthony Cordesman, a US military analyst, said. "They're not active enough to present much of a threat to the Taliban most of the time." It was creditable on the part of the US commander to have gone to the bombing-spot despite the warnings from the German colleagues. "The Defence Ministry is very surprised about the unusual procedure of using a journalist as a source to reveal initial investigation results," summed up a critical reaction. An investigation has been ordered but the highly controversial bombing appears to have caused considerable chasm. No wonder, Chancellor Merkel and Gordon Brown called for an enquiry from Berlin. The carnage has perilous implications. First, Northern Afghanistan has remained an area which abetted the fight against the Taliban. Now with such unsavoury experience of the misuse of US air-power etc, hostility against the foreign forces would swell. Kristof, the most-familiar American journalist, highlights in his column/NYT entitled The Afghanistan Abyss emphasising the cultural chasm which makes the locals "more likely to see us as alien occupiers." Second, the Taliban attacks would also increase to avenge such an atrocity and this supply-line for the foreign forces would also be compromised like the one through Torkham/Pakistan. The rocket attacks on Kabul on September 5/6 involving loss of life is an indication of the same. Post-Ramazan prognosis portends to be grim. Third, US will have to reduce dependence on the misuse of air-power which is destroying its image besides helping the Taliban get committed volunteers from the aggrieved families looking for 'revenge'. Fourth, this will require foreign forces to engage the less equipped, but better briefed, enemy in straight fights which would result in higher casualties. Fifth, a weakened Karzai, who also denounced the deplorable bombing, if and when re-installed as president, would become a big liability for waging a war in the country. Lastly, as the public opinion in EU, generally, and even US is turning sceptical, any increase in casualties could become a red-rag for them prompting bitter protests etc. As such Eric Joyce's, a UK parliamentarian who resigned as an aide to the secretary defence on this issue, observation: "For many, Britain fights, Germany pays; France calculates; Italy avoids." would sound like a gospel truth with the consequent fallout. The Taliban have also on September 7 urged the UN/other independent bodies and governments to conduct an enquiry in to the atrocity which killed 150 civilians. Invoking their "humanitarian and ethical responsibility by condemning this incident and preventing such incidents in future", the statement specifies that 150 civilians got killed in Kunduz carnage. BBC's David Lyon points out a change of tactics by the Taliban whereby they signal their amenability to accept neutral foreign interference. BBC quotes an eyewitness, Sameer Ahmad Tahseen (Kabul University student), who was visiting home as stressing: "The issue of civilian casualties makes every Afghan angry, including myself. They are going down the same route as the Soviet troops. It is a very effective way to spread hatred among ordinary people and to give the Taliban the opportunity to recruit more people." As if this tragedy, inspired by awful fears, was not enough, the SCA in Afghanistan have strongly condemned the improper raid by the ISAF forces on their hospital in Wardak on September 2 at 10 pm wherein they manhandled employees and traumatised others. The press release also highlights the fact that finding nothing objectionable, verbal "orders" from ISAF were received at midnight to the effect that "on receiving any patient that could be an insurgent the hospital staff has to report to the coalition forces who would then determine if the hospital would be permitted or not of treating such patient." Denouncing the occurrence as "simply not acceptable", the country Director of SCA Anders Fange stressed: "We demand guarantees from the ISAF command that such violations will not be repeated and that this is made clear to commanders in the field. SCA cannot and will not tolerate this kind of treatment by the ISAF. Nor is the SCA bound by any orders from ISAF regarding to whom treatment can be given." Kunduz is a big disaster; General McChrystal's new thinking nonetheless stays valid. Senator Feingold's recent warning about Afghanistan would make a lot of sense now. Larger US footprints remain a conundrum just as 'calling the helicopters' a la Vietnam is no way-out. Ahmed Rashid sounds realistic when in a recent article he underlines that the US has to "remain committed to rebuilding a minimalist state in Afghanistan." The writer is a former secretary interior E-mail: