The Associated Press, April 17, 2010

Afghans blame troops and Taliban

"I blame the Afghan government and NATO forces entirely for the insecurity, because our government is weak and corrupt," said Hajji Abdullah

Kathy Gannon

Kandahar blast site
Afghans walk by a house destroyed in a suicide bombing the previous night in Kandahar, Afghanistan (Photo: Rahmat Gul-AP)

With a U.S.-led offensive only weeks away to clear the Taliban from this key southerncity, many residents blame foreign troops and the Afghan government as much as the Taliban for pushing Kandahar toward the brink of chaos - the very thing the military hopes to reverse.

The goal of the operation by U.S., NATO and Afghanforces is to shore up a local administration that nominally controls the city and break the grip of warlords and influence peddlers, who are thought to have allowed the Taliban in.

Kandahar is the largest city in the south and the spiritual headquarters of the Islamist movement when it ruled most of Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Ineffectual government has allowed the fighters to slip back.

"I blame the Afghan government and NATO forces entirely for the insecurity, because our government is weak and corrupt," said Hajji Abdullah, who sells air conditioners in downtown Kandahar. "Everyone knows that the Taliban are against the government. They are bringing their explosives from Pakistan. Why isn'tNATO working to stop these people?"

The task of securing Kandahar will be formidable. Apart from military challenges, the mission requires redressing nine years of public griev ances and winning the trust of the 500,000 inhabitants, who are deeply skeptical of Western promises.

"Ten percent of the people are with the Taliban, 10 percent are with the government, and 80 percent of the people are angry at the Taliban, the government and the foreigners," said Mohammed Ishaq Khan, a leader of the powerful Achakzai tribe, which dominates an area that has been the scene of bitter battles between NATO and the insurgents.

In advance of the NATO offensive, expected to start this summer in residential districts on the edge of the city, the Taliban have stepped up their own campaign, planting more and more bombs and booby-traps around Kandahar and elsewhere in the south.

"The Afghan National Army and the police cannot provide security, and this government cannot provide good governance," said Karim Khan, a tribal leader from nearby Panjwai district, where NATO and Afghan operations have failed to dislodge the Taliban. "Warning of the [coming] operationonly gives the Taliban a lot of time to plant bombs that cause problems for everyone."

With both sides preparing for a summer showdown, anxiety is running high among Kandahar's people.

"When the Taliban were here, I could get a job," said day laborer Abdul Ghani. "Now I can get a job, but the difference is today there is no security. We are not politicians; we are not soldiers. We just want peace."

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