The Taliban may boost its presence in Afghanistan and increase the pace of its attacks in 2008, the Pentagon warned in its latest report.It also singled out Taliban's safe havens along Pakistan's border areas as the biggest security threat.
The Taliban will likely try to boost its presence in new areas of Afghanistan while continuing to fight in its south and eastern strongholds, the Pentagon warned in a new report Friday.
"The Taliban will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas, especially in the south and east. The Taliban will also probably attempt to increase its presence in the west and north," the Pentagon said in its first report to Congress on security in the country.
The hardline Islamic militia, which was routed from power in Afghanistan by a US-led coalition in 2001, has regrouped since then and "coalesced into a resilient insurgency."
The Taliban has continued to strengthen, resulting in an upswing in violence in 2007 that saw some 6,500 people killed in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and other violence.
The insurgency has been fiercest in the Taliban strongholds of southern Afghanistan and to the east, bordering Pakistan.
The Pentagon report, which recorded events up to April, acknowledged that international forces had "caused setbacks to the Afghan insurgency, including leadership losses and the loss of some key safe-havens in Afghanistan.
"Despite these setbacks, the Taliban is likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of its terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008."
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan over its support for the Al-Qaeda network.
But violence in the region has steadily increased in the past two years despite the presence of some 70,000 multinational troops in Afghanistan, including soldiers under US command and others under NATO's authority.
The 72-page "Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" is the first such report to Congress, and a similar accounting will be now made every six months in the same way that the Pentagon tracks the war in Iraq.
In all, 106 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since January, the majority slain by roadside bombs, according to an AFP tally based on military statements.
According to the report, as of early 2008 "the most significant threat to stability" in northern and western Afghanistan came "from warlords, criminals and drug traffickers. The power of these entities is increasingly challenged by the growing competence of local and national government."
The country's thriving drug trade "remains a significant challenge" for the government and the international forces. "While progress has been made in some areas, overall counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan have not been successful," the report said.
Concerning Iran, "there is evidence that the insurgency ... has been provided with lethal aid originating in Iran since at least 2006."
However these explosives and weapons have "not proven militarily significant," and it is "unclear what role, and at what level the Iranian government plays in providing this assistance."
US officials "monitor and take seriously any such assistance to the insurgency," the report read.
The report notes a sharp rise in the use of roadside bombs, what the military calls Improvised Explosive Devices: US officials reported finding 2,615 roadside bombs in 2007, up from 1,931 in 2006.
The greatest challenge "to long-term security within Afghanistan is the insurgent sanctuary within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan," the report said.
On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates lashed out at Pakistan's failure to put pressure on Taliban forces on the country's border with Afghanistan.
A 40 percent spike in attacks in east Afghanistan in the first five months of 2008 "is a matter of concern, of real concern, and I think that one of the reasons that we're seeing the increase ... is more people coming across the border from the frontier area," Gates told a news conference.
While stressing the US "moral responsibility" in Afghanistan, the Pentagon report said success "will never be achieved through military means alone, but through a comprehensive approach that involves the elements of power: military, diplomatic, and economic."
Date created : 2008-06-28