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Afghanistan Conflict Rapidly Worsening: US Report


US soldiers march through a poppy field as they prepare to search a house for Taliban insurgents in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. US newspapers have reported that President George W. Bush's administration has launched an urgent review of policy in Afghanistan as intelligence officials warn of a "downward spiral" in efforts to stabilize the country. (AFP/File/Nicolas Asfouri)

WASHINGTON - The US administration has launched an urgent review of policy in Afghanistan as intelligence officials warn of a "downward spiral" in efforts to stabilize the country, US newspapers reported Thursday.

Officials familiar with a draft National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan, said it casts doubt on the ability of the Kabul government to stem the resurgence of Taliban, The New York Times said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that she had not seen the NIE but said "we have asked for the intelligence community to take a look, it's important that it do so.

"I would just cite that Afghanistan is a difficult place. It has made progress since 2001. We have all talked about new circumstances that have arisen there, and we are doing a review to see what more we can do," she added.

The NIE report combining analyses of 16 US intelligence agencies is due for completion after the US presidential election in November.

"The classified report finds that the breakdown in central authority in Afghanistan has been accelerated by rampant corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai and by an increase in violence by militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan," the Times said.

The report says heroin trade "by some estimates" accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan's economy, the Times said.

According to The Washington Post, "analysts have concluded that reconstituted elements of Al-Qaeda and the resurgent Taliban are collaborating with an expanding network of militant groups, making the counterinsurgency war infinitely more complicated."

"As the US presidential election approaches, senior officials have expressed worry that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is so tenuous that it may fall apart while a new set of US policymakers settles in," the Post said.

Spurred by the report, the White House has launched a review of Afghanistan policy "fast-tracked for completion in the next several weeks," the Post said.

It said President George W. Bush's senior advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, had instructed Pentagon and State Department officials to "return to the basic questions" such as "what are our objectives" and "what can we hope to achieve" in Afghanistan.

Lute is heading to Afghanistan with a team of specialists to assess the situation there, according to The New York Times.

The National Intelligence Estimate describes a Pakistan-based extremist network with three elements: Pakistani extremists allied with Kashmiri militants; Afghan Taliban; and traditional tribal groups in western Pakistan that assist the other groups, the Post said.

"Al-Qaeda, composed largely of Arabs, and increasingly, Uzbeks, Chechens and other Central Asians, is described as sitting atop the structure, providing money and training to the others in exchange for sanctuary," the Post said.

A US counterterrorism official told the daily there is competition between the groups but their interests increasingly overlap and "they understand the need to support one another."


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