Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 5 News List

NATO faces mounting woes in Afghanistan


A drug addict injects himself with heroin in Kabul on Thursday. A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released in Kabul on Aug. 27 shows that the production level of opium, from which heroin is manufactured, is expected to reach 8,200 tonnes this year, up from 6,100 tonnes last year. Afghanistan is now responsible for 93 percent of global opium production, the office said.


An Afghan police officer leaned over a tray laden with pistachios and cubes of chilled watermelon to make his point to NATO's supreme commander.

"The enemy are attacking with machine guns and rocket launchers and we can reply only with rifles," Colonel Sayad Yakub Khan said. "We don't have the capacity to respond."

Even in relatively prosperous parts of Afghanistan spared the worst of the violence that has curbed economic development, the mission to reconstruct the war-shattered country faces a raft of problems nearly six years after the Taliban regime were toppled.

NATO chiefs report progress in combating a resurgent Taliban, yet an ineffective Afghan police force, spiraling drugs production and criticism of the military alliance over rising civilian deaths all present major headaches to the Western-backed mission to stabilize the country.

"It's like three-dimensional chess in a dark room and you have gloves on," is how General John Craddock -- the commander of all NATO operations, including the 40,000 allied troops in Afghanistan -- described NATO's task during a visit to the country last week.

The discontented Afghan police officer was speaking in northwestern Faryab Province, which borders Turkmenistan and is relatively peaceful and prosperous, far from the Taliban's heartlands in the south where NATO units clash daily with the insurgents.

Local officials praise NATO troops for helping open schools, pave roads and boosting the local economy. Yet recent months have seen a resurgence of attacks by insurgents infiltrating from the south. Targets include police posts, alliance troops and local civilians working with international development efforts, officials said.

Craddock said that NATO would stand by the local authorities and told Khan he pressed allied governments to provide more equipment to the Afghan army and police.

Getting more NATO training teams to embed with the Afghan army was his top priority, Craddock said.

Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since US forces invaded the country in 2001 to oust the hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers, who harbored al-Qaeda leaders blamed for planning the attacks in the US on Sept. 11, 2001.

The focus of the violence has been in the southern and eastern provinces, but the insurgents are increasingly using Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside bombs, suicide attacks and kidnappings to hit foreign and Afghan targets around the country. In May, a Finnish soldier was killed and four Norwegians injured in normally quiet Maymana.

Craddock acknowledged NATO was caught by surprise by the strength of Taliban resistance since his troops moved into the south a year ago.

"When we took over the south I don't think that NATO, or the coalition, realized the extent of the Taliban resurgence there," he said. "There weren't many [international] forces there. That became a safe haven. NATO moved in, stirred up a hornets' nest and we're still feeling that."

He says NATO troops -- mostly from Britain, Canada, the US and the Netherlands -- are making progress, thwarting Taliban attempts to seize control of significant territory in the south.

However, commanders on the ground in southern Afghanistan complain that they can chase the Taliban out of particular districts but sometimes don't have the manpower to hold the ground.

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