LONDON – The Taliban have regained control over the southern half of Afghanistan and their frontline is advancing daily, a group closely monitoring the Afghan situation said in a report Tuesday.
The report on the reconstruction of Afghanistan marking the fifth anniversary of 9/11 is based on extensive field research in the critical provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Herat, and Nangarhar.
“The Taliban frontline now cuts halfway through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces,” the Senlis Council report says. The Senlis Council is an international policy think tank with offices in Kabul, London, Paris, and Brussels.
The report from Senlis, which has reported extensively on Afghanistan over recent years, says also that “a humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty has gripped the south of the country.” The report blames “the U.S. and UK-led failed counter-narcotics and military policies” for this situation.
“The subsequent rising levels of extreme poverty have created increasing support for the Taliban, who have responded to the needs of the local population,” the report says.
“We are seeing a humanitarian disaster,” Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of The Senlis Council told IPS. “There are around Kandahar now camps with people starving, kids dying almost every day, and this is obviously used by the Taliban to regain the confidence of the people, and to regain control of the country.”
The poppy-eradication program has been a disaster, he said. “It is a direct attack on the livelihood of the farmers, so there is a clear connection between the eradication and this humanitarian crisis. All this is being used by the Taliban to say that when we were there we were maybe hard and cruel, but you could feed the family, now look what’s going on. They are more and more providing support, social services to the local population.”
The U.S.-led nation-building efforts have failed because of “ineffective and inflammatory military and counter-narcotics policies,” the report says. “At the same time, there has been a dramatic under-funding of aid and development programs.”
The disastrous policies could have created the very circumstances for the growth of terrorism that the United States set out to fight, the report says. “The U.S. policies in Afghanistan have recreated the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy,” Reinert said.
“The reason that the international force is in Afghanistan for the last five years is to make sure that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for international terrorists,” Reinert told IPS. But the rise of the Taliban is still short of a rise in terrorism, he said.
“Right now we cannot say we see a lot of foreign elements; we see the Taliban in Afghanistan,” he said. “We see basically the neo-Talibans as they are called, they are Afghans, they are people from the communities, they are from the Pashtun tribes who have been fighting in the south for so many years. In a way, it is a civil war which is being waged over there.”
Hunger is leading to anger, the report says. Lack of funding from the international community means the Afghan government and the United Nations World Food Program are unable to address Afghanistan’s hunger crisis, the report says. “Despite appeals for aid funds, the U.S.-led international community has continued to direct the majority of aid funds toward military and security operations.”
“Five years after 9/11, Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and there is a hunger crisis in the fragile southern part of the country,” said Reinert.. “Remarkably, this vital fact seems to have been overlooked in funding and prioritization of the foreign policy, military, counter-narcotics, and reconstruction plans.”
Consequently, the international community has lost the battle for the hearts and mind of the Afghan people, the report says.
The report warns of difficult conditions in makeshift, unregistered refugee camps of starving children and civilians displaced by counter-narcotics and bombing campaigns.
These camps also accommodate families who have left their home due to violence and fighting, the report says. Some are there because their homes have been destroyed by coalition forces’ interventions in the “war on terror” and the current heightened counter-insurgency operations, the report says.
“Right from 2001, the U.S.-led international community’s priorities for Afghanistan were not in line with those of the Afghan population,” said Reinert. “It is a classic military error: they did not properly identify the enemy.”
The report says that military expenditure outpaces development and reconstruction spending by 900 percent $82.5 billion has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan since 2002, compared to just $7.3 billion on development.
The large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths have also fueled resentment and mistrust of the international military presence, the report says. There were 104 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the month of July alone.
Faced with the return of the Taliban, the United States and the international community must immediately reassess the entire approach in Afghanistan, the report says.
“Emergency poverty relief must now be the top priority,” said Reinert. “Only then can we talk of nation-building and reconstruction.”
The rise of the Taliban is rapid, he told IPS. “You cannot make peace with the real command of the Taliban. We have to attack the root cause of the growing power of the Taliban, which is poverty, the counter-narcotics policy, we have to cut the Taliban from their base so that they will become what they were five years ago, a very small group of isolated terrorists in a way, a group that was using terror. That’s not the case any more. Now they are a large part of the population because of the failure of the development policy.”
Reinert said that “in a year we will have a situation where the legitimacy of the Kabul government will be weakened to a point where they will not be able to have the country stay together.”