KABUL, Jan 19 (Reuters) – The war in Afghanistan is only just beginning as NATO forces, far from pursuing remnants of a defeated Taliban, are entering a widening and deepening conflict they may well lose security NGO said on Saturday.
Taliban insurgents, fighting to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces, carried out more attacks over a wider area in 2007, the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (ANSO) said in its report for last year, and the best case scenario for this year, is “more of the same”.
“A few years from now, 2007 will likely be looked back upon as the year in which the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight,” said ANSO, which monitors security for the dozens of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan.
U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001 after the conservative Islamist movement refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
But, “with the Taliban resurgent, it has become obvious that their easy departure in 2001 was more of a strategic retreat than an actual military defeat,” the report said.
“In simple terms, the consensus among informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one,” it said.
The Taliban are still most active in their traditional heartlands in the south and east of the country, but have also extended attacks to parts of the west, centre and north.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), has some 41,000 troops in Afghanistan, but due to restrictions on how and where most European troops are deployed and taking out the necessary support troops, ISAF can not field more than 5,000 to 7,000 combat troops, ANSO estimated.
ISAF commanders have long complained of a lack of troops and the U.S. government, despairing over the failure of European countries to send more troops to Afghanistan, this week announced it was sending 3,200 marines to the country.
Even so, the best case scenario for 2008 was “more of the same”, ANSO said with Taliban insurgents slowly expanding its influence on the countryside and aid groups being forced to retreat into the relative safety of the cities.
Western political leaders and NATO commanders say they are making progress in fighting the Taliban, heading off a spring offensive last year and building up Afghan security forces.
“We totally disagree with those who assert that the ‘spring offensive’ did not happen and would instead argue that a four-fold increase in armed opposition group initiated attacks Feb to July constitutes a very clear-cut offensive,” ANSO said. (Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Bill Tarrant))