Afghanistan: Three western districts fall to Taliban

"Taliban insurgents have captured a third district in western Afghanistan, local officials said on Monday [November 5], defying Western assertions the rebels are unable to mount large military offensives", Reuters reported that same day.

Taliban fighters had captured the Gulistan district of Farah province a week earlier. They then captured the nearby Bakwa district on October 31. "Khake-e Sefid district fell into Taliban hands yesterday without any resistance from Afghan [government] forces", Qadir Daqiq, a Farah provincial council member, told Reuters on November 5.

Reuters had reported on November 2 that, "Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the insurgents would occupy the whole of Farah province and would not retreat. Farah is a large, mostly desert, sparsely populated region bordering Iran to the west and Helmand province to the southeast, where the rebels have held one town since February and are engaged in almost daily battles with mostly British troops."

That same day's New York Times reported that Canadian troops fought a two-day battle with "several hundred" Taliban fighters in the Arghandab district, 10 kilometres north of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's largest city, after which the Taliban fighters withdrew from the area. The NYT noted that it "was the closest the Taliban had come to Kandahar since 2001".

"It is very worrying that an area that had previously been secure should become vulnerable to the Taliban", the November 5 Christian Science Monitor was told by a European diplomat who spoke anonymously.

The Taliban, a fanatical Afghan Islamist movement created in 1994-95 by Pakistan's military intelligence service with Washington's blessing, ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 until the country was invaded by US-led forces in late 2001. There are currently about 50,000 foreign troops, most from the US and its NATO allies, occupying Afghanistan.

Growing public disaffection with the US-installed regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which is dominated by warlords and opium traffickers, has led to a resurgence of support for the Taliban in the south and east of Afghanistan over the last two years.

Since the ousting of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world's largest producer of opium. Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told reporters in Kabul on October 28 that Afghanistan had a record harvest of 9000 tonnes of opium in 2007, a 34% increase on its 2006 harvest. Opium exports equal more than half of Afghanistan's official GDP.

The January 9, 2006 Newsweek reported that Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president's younger brother, was "a major figure" in the drug trade. "He is the unofficial regional governor of southern Afghanistan and leads the whole trafficking structure", a veteran Afghan interior ministry official told Newsweek.

As of November 5, 102 US and 103 allied foreign troops had been killed in Afghanistan this year, making it the deadliest year on record for the occupation forces. Last year, 98 US and 93 allied foreign troops died in combat in Afghanistan.

The number of Afghans killed over the last six years in war-related violence is unknown. A study by the Joint Co-ordinating and Monitoring Board, made up of the Afghan government, its key foreign backers and the UN, suggested that at least 3700 Afghans were killed in 2006.

According to an Associated Press count, based on figures from Afghan and Western officials, at least 5200 Afghans have died this year from war-related violence.

The November 5 Reuters report noted that, "NATO commanders admit they have a limited window in which to defeat the Taliban and provide much-needed development before the Afghan public turns against their presence and public opinion in the West, frustrated by growing casualties, calls for the troops to be withdrawn, handing victory to the insurgents".