"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Afghan drugs, poverty and anger fuel Taliban war
Washington Post
By Sayed Salahuddin
May 21, 2006

KABUL (Reuters) - Drugs, poverty and frustration with the Afghan government are fuelling an insurgency by Taliban militants, who appear to be growing stronger just as more foreign forces are arriving to try to improve security.

Violence in the past week has been some of the worst since U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power. In recent days, more than 100 people have died in bombings and gunbattles in the Afghan south. Two French soldiers, an American and a Canadian were among the dead.

The violence comes as NATO is expanding its peacekeeping force from 9,000 to 16,000, in preparation for taking over security responsibilities in the south from U.S.-led forces.

NATO troops from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are spearheading the expansion into parts of the country where few, if any, foreign or government troops have set foot, and where the insurgents and drug cartels hold sway.

"It's hardly surprising the opposition want to disrupt it and contest it," NATO spokesman Mark Laity said of the alliance's push into new areas.

"They know this is a substantial expansion."

With 23,000 U.S. troops in the country, Afghanistan will soon have nearly 40,000 foreign troops, the most since 2001, facing off against the insurgents and their drug-gang allies.

But as foreign forces and President Hamid Karzai's government seek to push their authority into the countryside, the Taliban too have been expanding their reach.

The militants are now operating in areas where they have not been since since late 2001. Ever larger swathes of the south and east are off-limits to the government and aid workers.

In Ghazni province southwest of Kabul, for example, the Taliban have infiltrated villages just 10 km (six miles) from the provincial capital, residents say.

Police and other government workers are abandoning their homes for the safety Ghazni town in the face of Taliban threats.


Across the countryside, the Taliban are finding a population frustrated with the government and disillusioned with foreign forces.

"People have grievances to do with governance, transparency and corruption. There's frustration, people are not getting what they expected," said a Western analyst.

"I think this would be happening regardless of what's going on with deployments," he said of the violence.

Many impoverished, deeply conservative Afghans are also receptive to the insurgents' rallying cry of jihad, or holy war, said Waheed Mozhdah, a writer and political analyst who served as a government official during Taliban rule.

"Every war needs a cause more so than weapons. The Taliban have a cause and that is Islam," Mozhdah said.

The recent release of a Christian covert who many thought should have been punished for abandoning Islam had raised questions over the legitimacy of the government from an Islamic point of view, he said.

At the same time, there was resentment of heavy-handed tactics by foreign forces searching for militants and many Afghans saw no improvement in their lives nearly five years after the Taliban were driven out.

"There was hope among people after the Taliban's ouster that things would improve economically, Afghanistan would be reconstructed. But it seems those hopes did not come true," Mozhdah said.

The Western-backed government's efforts to eradicate opium-growing were also playing into the hands of the Taliban.

"Instead of arresting officials involved in trafficking the government has resorted to punishing poor farmers. That has caused anger," he said.

"If you put those factors together, you get a picture of why the Taliban have been successful in increasing their attacks and recruiting fighters," Mozhdah said.

Another huge advantage for the Taliban are sanctuaries on the lawless Pakistani side of the border from where arms and fighters stream in, analysts say.

NATO's top military commander in Europe said on Saturday Afghanistan was teetering on the brink of becoming a narco-state with drug cartels posing a greater threat than the Taliban.

NATO forces hope to provide a window of security for the government and aid agencies to start improving lives.

Their exit strategy is building up Afghan forces so they can take over. That will take years.

Original Text