Afghan Taliban a Growing Menace to Stability

Tue August 26, 2003 06:52 AM ET

By Mike Collett-White

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Operating in growing numbers, the Taliban and their allies have succeeded in destabilizing large parts of Afghanistan and creating conditions that could undermine the U.S. military and central government.

Aid and reconstruction is suspended across swathes of territory in the center, south and southeast, giving Afghans the impression the international community has abandoned them now the Taliban has been formally ousted.

“Once people are discouraged, that is the point of success for them, as no one will collaborate (with the authorities),” said Khalid Pashtun, director of foreign affairs in the south of the country.

Local power brokers are also behind lawlessness in southern and central provinces, further tarnishing the image of U.S. forces in the people’s already skeptical eyes.

The United States recruited warlords to help it topple the Taliban in 2001 and still works with some of them in pursuit of the hard-line militia and the al Qaeda network it sheltered.

Officials and aid workers say that most Afghans, including Pashtuns in the conservative south, oppose the ousted Taliban regime, which has stepped up attacks on government forces and is moving in groups as large as 600 fighters.

But they warn that such opposition may weaken if people feel U.S. forces and the international community in general are not doing enough to provide security and fulfil promises to help revive the war-shattered economy.

Critics say the United States may be paying the price for committing only around 10,000 soldiers to Afghanistan compared with about 136,000 in Iraq.

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