WASHINGTON - Afghanistan is currently suffering its most violent year since the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, according to an internal United Nations report that sharply contrasts with recent upbeat appraisals by President Bush and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.
"The security situation in Afghanistan is assessed by most analysts as having deteriorated at a constant rate through 2007," said the report compiled by the Kabul office of the U.N. Department of Safety and Security.
There were 525 security incidents - attacks by the Taliban and other violent groups, bombings, terrorism of other kinds, and abductions - on average every month during the first half of this year, up from an average of 425 incidents per month in 2006.
Last year was the most violent since the U.S. post-September 11 offensive that ousted the hard-line Taliban Islamic militia from power and drove Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida terrorists into neighboring Pakistan.
The U.N.'s Half-Year Review of the Security Situation in Afghanistan underscored the continuing resurgence of the Taliban, which many experts attribute to Bush's decision to shift troops and resources to Iraq, the U.S. failure to capture the militia's top leaders, and the refuge the militia has secured in the lawless tribal region of neighboring Pakistan.
There are currently about 40,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Bush and Karzai met for talks Friday in New York and later touted advances made since the Taliban's ouster, including reduced childhood mortality rates, and increases in the numbers of health clinics and children going to school.
"Afghanistan, indeed, has made progress," said Karzai. The following day, he offered to meet the Taliban's spiritual and political leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar and to offer militia members Cabinet seats if it would bring peace.
The U.N. report said that the nature of the Taliban insurgency has changed significantly since 2006.
Guerrillas have been staging fewer conventional attacks on U.S.-led NATO forces and Afghan troops and relying more heavily on suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, assassinations, intimidation and abductions, it said.
"The Afghan National Police has become a primary target of insurgents and intimidation of all kinds has increased against the civilian population, especially those perceived to be in support of the government, international military forces as well as the humanitarian and development community," said the report.
The Taliban and associated groups have engaged in fewer large-scale clashes with foreign and Afghan forces because they suffered large numbers of casualties, including many mid-level and senior commanders, in conventional battles last year.
"Another reason must be the realization that these types of attacks are futile against a modern conventionally equipped military force supported by a wide range of air assets," said the report, which also noted improvements in the Afghan National Army.
A U.S. diplomat, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Taliban appeared to be trying to counter a U.S. and NATO counter-insurgency strategy - which is to undercut public support for the guerrillas through stepped up delivery of reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
"The insurgents are also trying to separate the people from the government. They are doing that by making people very reluctant to go and actively or passively support the government," he said. "We've got an enemy who is quick on his feet, responsive and adaptable to the changing environment."
© 2007 McClatchy Newspapers