A Catalogue of Misfortune
Although no more than 15 percent of Afghans want the Taliban back in Kabul, according to a poll commissioned recently by the US Central Command, the Hamid Karzai government is losing the country as a result of corruption and its failure to supply security. The Afghan people’s patience is wearing thin.
The year 2007 saw an upsurge of violence against every category: civilians, police, NATO forces and international aid workers. The figures are disheartening: 6,500 deaths including 110 US troops, a record level in Afghanistan, as well as 4,500 terrorists.
Taliban ambushes claimed the lives of 925 Afghan policemen.
The number of insurgent attacks increased by 400 percent from 2002 to 2006 and the resulting deaths rose eightfold.
Military observers say the Taliban abandoned its large-scale attacks after crippling losses in 2006. But a spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, recently promised 2008 would see stepped-up suicide attacks, ambushes and roadside bombings against US and NATO troops.
Taliban and its loosely affiliated allies, al Qaeda, Hezb-i-Islami, criminal organizations and tribal groups, now control three-quarters of Afghanistan including its western, eastern and parts of its southern and central regions. NATO and Afghan forces control a fifth of the south.
Kabul’s outlying districts have been invaded by Taliban and other groups so that connecting roads which were safe for travel a year ago are now dangerous. Not only ambushes and roadside bombs threaten; Taliban has set up checkpoints on the highways to “collect taxes” and kidnap Western and local individuals.
Popular frustration with corrupt and ineffectual national and local government is as pronounced in the rural areas as the cities. Many officials are involved in drug trafficking, as poppy cultivation expands.
Rural villagers who collaborate with the government’s security forces and NATO are killed or succumb to threats. If they hold out, their bodies may be hanged in the village centers as a warning to other collaborators.
Many have moved their families to the cities for better protection. The depopulated villages, emptied of government supporters, fall into Taliban and other insurgent hands and are used as sanctuaries and jumping-off bases for attacks on NATO and Afghan forces.
Taliban leaders are safely ensconced across the border in Pakistan, many in the Baluchi capital of Quetta. Their propaganda and other parts of their administration are based in Karachi and Peshawar. Hamid Karzai, who visited Islamabad last week, has accused the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists of using bases in Pakistan to orchestrate attacks against his government and push across arms, suicide bombers, fighters, explosives and logistical support.
On the plus side, albeit marginally, US Brig. General Joseph Votel has reported a 40 percent decrease since July 2007 in attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border, which might be attributed to the onset of winter, intensified Taliban attacks in Pakistan and better coordination among NATO, Afghan and Pakistani forces.
He said the US military had killed or captured more than 50 high-profile insurgent leaders this year. Nonetheless, he admitted the insurgents had improved their effectiveness.