US policies fuel Taliban resurgence

In a report released on September 5, the Senlis Council, an international policy think tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris and Brussels, said that Taliban forces fighting the US-led occupation of Afghanistan have regained control over the southern parts of the country.

The report was based on extensive field research in Afghanistan's southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the western province of Herat and the eastern province of Nangarhar. It said that a "humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty has gripped the south of the country", blaming this on the "US and UK-led failed counter-narcotics and military policies".

"We are seeing a humanitarian disaster", Emmanuel Reinert, the Senlis Council's executive director, said in the report. "There are around Kandahar now camps with people starving, kids dying almost every day, and this is obviously used by the Taliban to regain the confidence of the people, and to regain control of the country."

The report, titled Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban, described US-led military and counter-narcotics policies as "ineffective and inflammatory" with dramatic under-funding of aid and development programs.

The US and British-led poppy eradication program has been a disaster, Reinert said. "It is a direct attack on the livelihood of the farmers, so there is a clear connection between the eradication and this humanitarian crisis. All this is being used by the Taliban to say that when we were there we were maybe hard and cruel, but you could feed the family, now look what's going on. They are more and more providing support, social services to the local population."

The report said that military expenditure in Afghanistan by the occupying US-led coalition has outpaced development and reconstruction spending by 900% — US$82.5 billion has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan since 2002, compared to just $7.3 billion on development.

The large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths caused by the occupation forces have also fuelled resentment and mistrust of the international military presence, the report said. There were 104 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the month of July alone.

Five years ago, the Taliban were "a very small group of isolated terrorists in a way, a group that was using terror. That's not the case any more", Reinert told the Inter Press Service news agency on September 5. "Now they are a large part of the population because of the failure of the development policy."

There are about 20,000 US troops in Afghanistan, plus roughly the same number of troops belonging to other NATO contingents, including 5400 troops from Britain, 2500 from Canada, and 2300 from the Netherlands.

General Boris Gromov, the Soviet commander who supervised the withdrawal of the last Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, told the September 25 London Sunday Times: "The Afghan resistance is, in my opinion, growing ... We saw over a period of many years how the country was torn apart by civil war ... But in the face of outside aggressions, Afghans have always put aside their differences and united. Evidently, the [US-led] coalition forces are also being seen as a threat to the nation."

The September 26 Belfast Telegraph reported that NATO commanders had been "expecting the Taliban to use classic hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Instead it has been carrying out frontal attacks, losing many men, but still inflicting losses."

One British commander said that "the intensity and ferocity of the fighting is far greater than in Iraq on a daily basis". A British corporal, who had served in Iraq, said: "This is worse than Baghdad. It is like World War I, we are living in trenches. We have to fight to get out of the base, we have to fight to get back in. You have to fight every day."