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Afghanistan 'Falling into Hands of Taliban'

by Richard Norton-Taylor

The Taliban has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan and the country is in serious danger of falling into Taliban hands, according to a report by an independent thinktank with long experience in the area.

Despite tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid poured into the country, the insurgents, driven out by the American invasion in 2001, now control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries", the Senlis Council says in a report released yesterday.

On the basis of what it calls exclusive research, it warns that the insurgency is also exercising a "significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change".

It says the territory controlled by the Taliban has increased and the frontline is getting closer to Kabul - a warning echoed by the UN which says more and more of the country is becoming a "no go" area for western aid and development workers.

The council goes as far as to state: "It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when ... and in what form. The oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a new strategic paradigm before time runs out."

Its 110-page report coincides with an equally severe warning from Oxfam. In a report for the House of Commons International Development Committee the humanitarian and aid agency warns that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating significantly with the country's problems exacerbated by corruption in central and local government.

Senior British and US military commanders privately agree despite their public emphasis on short-term successes against Taliban fighters.

The insurgency is divided into a largely poverty-driven "grassroots" component and a concentrated group of "hard-core militant Islamists", says the Senlis Council, which has an office in Kabul and field researchers based in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan.

It says that the Nato-led International Security Force of some 40,000 troops should be at least doubled and include forces from Muslim countries as well as Nato states which have refused to send troops to the country.

There is no sign of any move within Nato to send reinforcements to Afghanistan.

While western governments, like the Senlis Council and Oxfam, are increasingly concerned about the lack of effectiveness of President Hamid Karzai's government, there is no agreement about how to solve the problems.

Oxfam warns that urgent action is needed to avert humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan where millions face "severe hardship comparable with sub-Saharan Africa". Though the country has received more than $15bn (£7.5bn) in aid since 2001, the money is not getting to projects which could lead to sustained improvements in people's lives, says Oxfam.

It adds that at least 1,200 civilians have been killed so far this year, half in operations by international or Afghan forces. It notes there are four times as many air strikes by international forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

The Senlis Council wants Nato forces, and their Provincial Reconstruction Teams, to take on a bigger role distributing aid and Oxfam says the military should stick to providing security.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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