If you are currently living in Kabul, you are residing in a city with a "permanent Taliban presence" according to a new report by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS).
The report states that including Kabul, 72% of Afghanistan suffers from a Taliban "permanent presence." Presence is defined by "provinces that average one (or more) insurgent attacks (lethal and non-lethal) per week." Kabul has four main roads leading into city. The ICOS report says that three of those are "compromised" by Taliban activity. Certainly, the reports of kidnappings and suicide bombings from Kabul in the past six months indicate an increased confidence and infiltration by the insurgents.
Seven years after the start of the war and billions and billions of dollars later, the president and founder of ICOS, Ms. Norine MacDonald QC, argues that Afghanistan is a victim of a catalogue of missed opportunities.
She told the Huffington Post: "The majority of Afghans still lack access to basic necessities such as food and water. International development and reconstruction efforts have been underfunded and have failed to have a significant impact on local communities' living conditions. These efforts have yet to deliver visible results to improve attitudes of the Afghan people towards their government and/or the international community. Until the international community expands its focus beyond the traditional military approach [by] targeting needs at a grassroots level and restoring its previous levels of support, there is a danger that the Taliban will simply overrun Afghanistan under the noses of NATO."
The Taliban have traditionally been strongest in the south, but MacDonald says that they are now effectively in "de facto control" of many southern provinces and are spreading rapidly. "The Taliban has rooted itself across increasing swathes of Afghan territory in the last twelve months. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, to Afghanistan's western and north-western provinces (such as Herat and Badghis), as well as provinces north of Kabul. According to our research, within just one year, the Taliban's permanent presence in Afghanistan has increased by a dramatic 18%. What's more, they are also intercepting vital supply routes in and out of the country."
Those vital supply lines - mainly transport corridors east to the Pakistan border hub Peshawar - are where two NATO warehouses were raided Sunday. An estimated 300 fighters destroyed over 150 trucks, military vehicles. The next day 50 shipping containers were set fire. It was not only devastating for NATO but also embarrassing - a big target, so easily hit.
NATO has been rather short in its dismissal of the report, stating it was "simply not true" that the Taliban is enjoying a surge. The Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. Ron Hoffman was more stringent in his appraisal, accusing ICOS of aiding the Taliban cause. "Whenever an (ICOS) report comes out it tends to be a day of celebration for the Taliban propaganda machine," he said, adding that the report's contents were "puzzling" and "off the mark."
An increase of Taliban supremacy (up from 54% last year according to ICOS) is not good public relations for the NATO backed ISAF forces, the United Nations, or the resident government missions. But MacDonald argues that they are often the last to know what ordinary Afghan people are thinking - and fearing - as they live inside the highly isolated world of Western life, creating effective "green zones" in Kabul.
"Many foreigners go to Afghanistan and never leave their own embassy compound or military base," she says. "The critics of our report themselves are living in heavily fortified compounds, under strict movement restrictions inside Kabul city and only travel in the city with an armed vehicle and armed escort. From our point of view, criticism of the research results either indicates the Canadian government and NATO to be either deeply out of touch with the situation on the ground, or withholding information on the failure of their policies for domestic political reasons. If the situation weren't so dire around Kabul, why for the first time, will the incoming U.S. troops be stationed in and around Kabul? If these critics don't agree with our calculations we invite them to provide their mapping and methodology to inform the public on their views on Taliban presence and control in Afghanistan."
The increase In Taliban popularity, argues ICOS, is in part because NATO are the "failed occupying force" and the Taliban are the dominant opponent. The suffering of the Afghan people makes them wary of the true intentions of the international community and powerless against the Taliban's proselytizing or coercion.
"Afghans support those who can provide security from physical harm, and many have no choice but to support the Taliban when they come to their district. We have heard stories of families who have one son in the Taliban and one son in the Afghan army - hedging their bets," she says. "Our research has also shown many people join the Taliban as they are paid to fight - and unemployment levels are extremely high amongst young men - especially in the South. Until food, water and basic medicines are made available to the country's population; the people of Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to Taliban recruitment and Taliban propaganda against the West."
Follow Virginia M. Moncrieff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vmmoncrieff