Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have managed to increase the number of their attacks every year since 2002, according to U.S. military figures. In 2007 alone, violence jumped 33 percent over the previous year. Part of that was because of a rise in suicide bombings, but small-arms attacks were up 47 percent.
In another worrying trend, the violence, which had been concentrated in southern and eastern portions of Afghanistan, is spreading to some lawless areas in western provinces as well. Defense officials assert that the Taliban still cannot conduct sustained operations and they blame the increased violence in part on a higher operational force by U.S. and coalition forces.
But U.S. intelligence agencies now estimate that the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai exercises regular control in barely 30 percent of the country. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told Congress that, by contrast, the Taliban holds sway in at least 10 percent of Afghanistan. Even worse, U.S. intelligence agencies also see an alarming boost in al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan, which has reached the highest level since 2002.
Afghanistan's drug trade, which is at record levels, is fueling some of the violence. Insurgents yesterday ambushed an opium eradication force in southern Afghanistan. In the resulting clashes, 25 Taliban fighters were killed and a policeman died.
U.S. officials do point to some good news, suggesting that Afghan security forces are improving slowly. But Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that significant differences over force levels, as well as tactics, continue to plague the NATO alliance and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. "Low domestic support for ISAF among some allied nations will limit their willingness to engage in more direct combat due to concerns over potential casualties," he said.
U.S. officials have in recent weeks stepped up pressure on European NATO allies to boost their combat forces in Afghanistan. But many European governments are under intense domestic pressure to avoid more serious deployments.
— Kevin Whitelaw