Reuters, September 24, 2009
Taliban grow stronger in ‘safe’ Afghan north, west
Taliban set up ‘shadow government’ in areas they control
By Sharafuddin Sharafyar
Seventeen-year-old Nowruz was celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid with his father, mother and 11-year-old sister when 50 Taliban gunmen attacked their home with rockets and gunfire and killed him.
The Taliban's target on Tuesday night was Nowruz's father Esmatullah, a police commander whose job had obliged him to move his family to the mainly Pashtun Guzara district of western Afghanistan's mainly stable Herat province.
Esmatullah escaped the Taliban attack, but his son was killed and his wife and daughter were seriously wounded.
Long considered one of the most stable and peaceful parts of the country, the northern provinces have seen rising violence as heavy insurgent activity has spread to 80 percent of the country – up from 54 percent two years ago. (See map.) Under increasing pressure in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, militants who have long sought to extend their reach have turned their attention to the north, where NATO has established a second supply route in the wake of debilitating attacks on its southern pipeline
The Christian Science Monitor, Sep. 11, 2009
"They then hit my home with rockets and the whole house is completely destroyed, we have no home now," Esmatullah said.
Months ago, such attacks were rare in this part of Afghanistan. But Taliban fighters are spreading from their bastions in the south and east, and previously secure areas in the north and west are fast becoming part of Taliban country.
There are some 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, three quarters of them U.S. and British troops who have fought intense battles in the southern and eastern Taliban heartlands.
In recent months security has deteriorated sharply in the north and west, where there are some U.S. special forces teams but where mainly European soldiers are based, who the Taliban perceive as weaker than the Americans.
"Last year (the Taliban) didn't have much of a presence in the west and the north and they want to target the NATO troops that are there, such as the Germans and the Italians," said Ahmed Rashid, author of books on the Taliban.
"I think (the Taliban) had a very concerted campaign this year to penetrate the north and the west ... they wanted to draw their troops out of the tribal border areas with Pakistan."
A local Taliban commander, Gholam Yahya Siyahoushani, told Reuters the austere Islamist movement was behind the attack on police commander Esmatullah's house.
The community had been warned not to work with the government or their homes would be raided, he said.
U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, says the war against the Taliban will be lost without more troops. In a bleak assessment leaked this week, he said Taliban fighters had set up a "shadow government" in areas they control.
Rashid said the Taliban were increasing their influence in several northern provinces. "They've done a lot of political work in the Pashtun pockets in Badghis and Herat," he said.
They have also tried to reclaim their former fiefdom of Kunduz, the first northern province to fall to the Taliban when they took control of Afghanistan in 1996.
Last month Taliban fighters hijacked two fuel trucks in Kunduz. Nearby German forces called in a NATO air strike, which killed nearly 100 people including 30 civilians, according to an Afghan government investigation.
In the west of the country, Afghan officials and U.S. officers say a massive U.S. military offensive in nearby Helmand in July pushed some Taliban insurgents into and beyond Farah province, just south of Herat.
Esmatullah feels let down by the government he serves and is not sure whether to stay in Herat or move back to his home province of Ghor in central Afghanistan which, though poor, is at least not plagued by the Taliban.
"It's up to the government and the police now to wipe my tears," he said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Golnar Motevalli in Kabul; editing by Peter Graff and Tim Pearce)
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