Attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan surged last year, according to previously unpublished figures from allied military forces fighting insurgents.
Statistics compiled by the multinational International Stabilisation Force in Afghanistan show attacks on international troops and the Afghan government have gone up by between a fifth and a third.
But although admitting the figures show a 'significant rise', Nato insists the geographic extent of the violence remains limited. 'Seventy per cent of the incidents took place in just 10 per cent of the country, where no more than 6 per cent of the population live, and many have been initiated by our forces as we engage with the enemy,' a Nato source said. 'That is the same area as in 2006 which shows the insurgency is not spreading.'
The figures, expected to be released shortly, will fuel the bitter dispute between Nato countries over military contributions. Nato has about 37,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 14,000 from the US and 7,700 from Britain. The US has 11,000 other soldiers operating outside the Nato mission and has announced that more than 3,000 more troops will be deployed over this year.
Recent weeks have seen fierce criticism of European nations' efforts in Afghanistan by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. In recent days there has been a bad-tempered exchange between Berlin and Washington after the Germans received a 'stern' letter from Gates asking for an increase in the 3,500 soldiers that they have deployed in the north of Afghanistan. Canada threatened to withdraw its troops, who have been fighting in the south and taking heavy casualties, if other nations did not do more.
In an attempt to cool the row, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is flying to London this week and a mini-summit of Nato defence ministers is also planned. The argument comes as a series of reports warning of 'failure' in the strategically critical country. British policy in Afghanistan sustained a major blow with the rejection of the nomination of Paddy Ashdown to a post as UN special envoy in Afghanistan.
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