/ 3 February 2009

Taliban violence spreads in Afghanistan, says report

The Pentagon, in a report to Congress on Monday, said insurgent violence was on the rise across Afghanistan and international forces lacked the troops and resources to control the country’s south.

The United States Defence Department described a dramatic increase in insurgent attacks in the spring and summer of 2008, saying the period marked the worst violence since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.

A resurgent Taliban was challenging the Kabul government for control of the south and east of the country, ”and increasingly in the west”, the report said.

In the south, ”where resources are not sufficiently concentrated, security cannot be established or maintained”, it added.

”In such areas, the full military, governance and economic spectrum of the Coin [counterinsurgency] strategy cannot be implemented and the insurgents retain their hold on the local Afghan population.”

The report, delayed for months pending the outcome of various strategy reviews, came as President Barack Obama weighed urgent military requests for up to 30 000 more US troops in Afghanistan, nearly doubling the US force there.

The report’s account of growing violence in the country was underscored by a suicide bombing on Monday that killed 25 policemen in the southern town of Tirin Kot.

”The Taliban regrouped after its fall from power and has coalesced into a resilient and evolving insurgency,” the report said.

Insurgent attacks rose 33% last year and assaults along the country’s major highway increased by 37% compared with 2007, it added.

The use of improvised explosive devices has also increased sharply, as has the targeting of construction and infrastructure projects.

”It is likely that attacks on these ‘softer targets’ with less security and protection measures, will continue at elevated levels throughout the year,” according to the report.

Titled ”Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” the report predicted the insurgents would attempt more high-profile strikes, such as the failed assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in April 2008.

Insurgent surface-to-air fire rose 67%, the report added, without specifying which weapons were used.

Increased attacks on aircraft represent a potentially serious development for stretched international troops that rely heavily on helicopters to operate across rugged terrain.

According to the bi-annual report, insurgent attacks were concentrated in the east along the border area with Pakistan, considered a stronghold for al-Qaeda militants, and in the south, a stronghold for the Taliban, an extremist Islamist group that ran the Kabul government from 1996 to 2001.

Although combined efforts by international and Afghan forces have dealt setbacks to the guerrilla forces, uncovered safe havens and dismantled roadside bombs, the insurgents have managed to step up the pace of their attacks.

The militants were targeting police and civilians more often, in a move that has caused ”an increasing sense of personal insecurity among the populace”, according to the report.

More patrols by Nato-led forces have also contributed to the rise in attacks as militants and allies forces were coming into contact more often, it said.

While the insurgents were gaining influence among the population, the Kabul government was plagued by widespread corruption, poor leadership and a lack of educated workers, it added.

Describing the government as one of the weakest in the world, the report said Kabul was ”hampered by pervasive corruption and a lack of sufficient leadership and human capital.”

The country’s police, meanwhile, were ”hampered by a lack of reform, corruption, a lack of trainers and advisers, and a lack of unity of effort among the international community”, the report said.

It outlined ”two distinct insurgencies” aiming to oust the Afghan government and expel foreign forces from the country.

One was the Taliban based in the south and the other was ”a more complex, adaptive insurgency in the east”, it said.

Afghanistan is likely to feature prominently at this week’s annual Munich security conference, where new US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, is expected to highlight the Obama administration’s overhauled approach to the region. — AFP