Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Taliban will wage its fiercest campaign of attacks in the coming months in an attempt to hamper the transfer of security duties in Afghanistan from the U.S. military to NATO, Kabul’s ambassador in Washington says.

“During the upcoming months, the Taliban will resort to the utmost violence to prevent reconstruction and discourage NATO countries from further deployment,” Said Jawad told The Washington Times.

More than 300 people have been killed and thousands displaced in the past two weeks as Taliban insurgents, with the help of al Qaeda allies, stepped up the frequency and sophistication of attacks for a summer fighting season.

Mr. Jawad estimates that 20 to 25 heavily armed militias are operating in five southern provinces with 3,000 to 5,000 men bent on testing the resolve of Western forces.

A continued “spike in terrorist activity” is likely, “especially where NATO troops are scheduled to be deployed,” he said.

The swell of Taliban activity coincides with a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from militant strongholds in the south, where NATO forces have begun assuming security operations.

The multinational force, led by Britain and Canada, will boost troop strength to about 21,000 from 9,000 by July, while the United States plans to draw down its 23,000-strong presence by 6,500.

Afghans living in distant provinces where infrastructure and economic opportunities have been slow to improve have “some concerns at the local level about the commitment and capability of NATO,” Mr. Jawad said. “They will have to see that NATO is as committed as the United States.”

The Bush administration and military commanders are confident the situation will improve.

Half of the 141 American servicemen killed in action in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion died last year.

“We are winning, but the war is not yet won,” Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said at a Pentagon press briefing last month.

He said the Taliban resurgence in the southern provinces is primarily a result of the fledgling Afghan government’s inability to combat them, not a testament to the movement’s strength.

The Taliban also has been emboldened by more advanced weaponry and greater mobility within the country and across the porous border to terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, Mr. Jawad said. “This is something even the government of Pakistan does not dispute.”

Pakistan-based foreign militants with links to al Qaeda and experience in Iraq have been offering large bounties to Afghans to kill U.S. soldiers and have encouraged the wider use of suicide bombings and kidnappings, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported recently.

Mr. Jawad said the Taliban relies on “intimidation tactics” such as hiding in villages, burning down schools and medical clinics, and killing moderate tribal leaders and clergy to create a climate of fear.

He said it was critical that the international community help reinforce the capacity of the cash-strapped Afghan government to deliver services “so the presence of the state will be felt in areas experiencing attacks.”

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