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Taliban flex muscle amid U.S. troop surge

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The recent Taliban-claimed attack in Kabul that claimed the life of a Canadian Forces colonel, and which the National Post says marks a "new turn" in the war, was quickly followed by a Taliban attack on nearby Bagram airbase, a major American installment. The pair of attacks has prompted some observers to declare that the Taliban's Spring offensive has begun.

Mustafa Qadri writes for the Guardian's site that the Taliban are seen as freedom fighters by many Afghan Pashtuns:

Taliban: the indistinguishable enemy

MAY 16 - They may be repressive fanatics who enslave women and give sanctuary to al-Qaida, but the US-led occupation of Afghanistan has transformed the Taliban into Pashtun freedom fighters. There are two principal reasons for this.

First, despite our best attempts, the foreign troops and the state they prop up are viewed as outsiders who have come not to liberate the country but subjugate it.

Second, so long as our presence in Afghanistan is primarily military, our relationship to ordinary Afghans will be based primarily on violence. Armies, by their very nature, must intimidate and coerce the population into accepting their authority. Despite the talk of winning hearts and minds and civilian surges, much of what we do in Afghanistan creates fear and hostility. ...

The problem for foreign powers in a foreign land is their limited interest in the welfare of the people whose lands they occupy. There can be no sustainable resolution of the current violence, however, unless and until the locals take the lead in looking for political solutions. (link)

Julian E. Barnes reporting for the Los Angeles Times discusses recent indications that the Taliban-led insurgency is not disappearing in the face of President Obama's military surge. The surge, which is expected to peak in September, is in fact the fourth troops increase which the Afghanistan war has seen. All of the previous ones have resulted in heightened violence.

Afghan Taliban getting stronger, Pentagon says
A Pentagon assessment, while expressing confidence in U.S. strategy, says the movement has flourished despite repeated assaults.

WASHINGTON, April 29 (L.A. Times) - A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.

The report, requested by Congress ... concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai's government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes. ...

A senior Defense official who briefed reporters on the report said violence increased last year in part because of the additional U.S. troops. ...

The report also notes that insurgents' tactics are increasing in sophistication and the militants have also become more able to achieve broader strategic effects with successful attacks. ... (link)

And an Associated Press report cites the Red Cross in shedding some light on the extent of insecurity in southern Afghanistan. Note that insurgents are not the only source of insecurity, as personal and tribal rivalries also commonly break out into armed clashes. These rivalries are often fueled by the accoutrements of the US-led war and occupation of Afghanistan.

UN refugee chief: Security worse in Afghanistan, foreign staff can't access half of country

GENEVA, May 5 (AP) - Security in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months to the extent that foreign staff of the U.N.'s refugee agency are unable to travel to half of the country, its top official said Wednesday.

The agency has to rely on local staff or Afghan partner organizations to reach tens of thousands of displaced people and returning refugees it is trying to aid, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

"There was a worsening security situation in the recent past," he told reporters in Geneva. "Access of our international staff to the territory is now limited to about 50 percent."

Last month the United Nations announced it had relocated several foreign employees from the southern city of Kandahar to Kabul and told more than 200 Afghan workers to stay home after security threats.

Guterres said aid workers have become targets for violence in part because the distinction between the foreign military and humanitarian groups has been blurred. ... (link)

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