TALEBAN WINS SUPPORT FROM LOCALS AS THEY OCCUPY TOWNS AND CITIES
US TROOPS PULLING OUT AS UK COMMITS 3000 MORE
From The New York Times : Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that American troops are leaving, the (Taleban) appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of southern Afghanistan with weapons and men.
Each spring with the arrival of warmer weather, the fighting season here starts up, but the scale of the militants' presence and their sheer brazenness have alarmed Afghans and foreign officials far more than in previous years.American forces are being told that Taleban and Al Qaeda forces are "everywhere" when the US and the UK troops are not around.
The Afghanistan War is reaching yet another critical stage. US troops are pulling out of southern Afghanistan in the months ahead, with NATO peacekeepers, including some 3000 Brits, scheduled to take over patrol duties.
But NATO forces won't fight the insurgents, or so the story goes. This delights the Taleban and Al Qaeda fighters, and terrifies the local Afghanis.
According to The New York Times : Insurgents....have the run of parts of Zabul, Ghazni and Paktika Provinces to the southeast, and have increased ambushes on the main Kabul-Kandahar highway.
The Bush administration is alarmed, according to a Western intelligence official close to the administration. He said that while senior members of the administration consider the situation in Iraq to be not as bad as portrayed in the press, in Afghanistan the situation is worse than it has been generally portrayed.
Asked about the surge in Taleban activity in southern Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said: 'We have seen Taliban activity fluctuate from time to time.'
The British-led NATO force taking over from the American troops in the south "'has well-equipped, well-led and fully prepared forces to operate in this challenging environment and deal with any threats," he added.
The British troops are widely seen as being responsible for poppy eradication, and because of this the Taleban are finding support amongst poppy farmers and the communities they support.
The Taleban are being viewed as the defenders of Afghan farmers.
It is no secret that past efforts to wipe out poppy farming on a grand scale has fuelled the Afghanistan insurgency.
One option open to the coalition is to legalise poppy cultivation for the making of painkillers such as morphine. For the moment, India and Australia supply much of the world's opium for this kind of production. Would Tasmanian poppy farmers see competition from Afghan poppy farmers as a major threat to their livelihoods?
It's hard to tell. Poppy farming in Australia is one of the most secretive of farming industries down under. Most Australians are not even aware that Tasmania supplies so much of the world's legal opium for the manufacture of morphine.
Meanwhile, the heavy fighting continues. In the Helmand province, more than 20 Taleban fighters were killed in a brutal confronation with Canadian troops last weekend. The militants were said to be in final preparations for a military ambush.-----------------------------------------
The UK is now asking India to send more troops into the country. India has been told they must do this now. India was already planning to deploy more para-military forces, but this apparently is not enough of a commitment.
Tony Blair's government has told India it has responsibilities in Afghanistan to make sure the country becomes more secure, particularly due to India's "substantial strategic interests".