On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Canada's minister of defence, Gordon O'Connor, is pressing NATO allies to send reinforcements to Afghanistan for a war looking far fiercer than army strategists bargained for. As Canadian Forces prepare to boost their capability with a 120-person tank squadron, the UK-based Senlis Council explains why NATO's war strategy is a bust. The following is excerpted from a Senlis field report entitled Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return Of The Taliban, published September 5.
White Taliban flags waving all over the south attest to the Taliban's extensive grip on the southern half of Afghanistan, with locals saying the Taliban are already preparing to consolidate their bases as the winter months approach. Contrary to positive statements from the international military forces, aid workers and police commanders in Kandahar and Helmand confirm that the Taliban have reinstated checkpoints and patrols in towns across the south, and the local police powerless are to stop them.
Local people recognize among them members of the former Taliban ruling regime, and the black turbans typical of Taliban supporters are worn openly.
A shopkeeper in Kandahar City said that Afghans working with foreign organizations in Kandahar or at the NATO-ISAF base at Kandahar airfield are routinely threatened by the Taliban. These workers have been told that unless they stop "supporting" the foreigners, they will suffer extreme forms of punishment.
Locals have all heard reports of the bodies of an old woman and young man being displayed as a warning to others who "help" the foreigners, and in mid-August in Maiwand a local police chief was shot in a market in broad daylight.
Neither the foreigners nor the Afghan government, locals assert, made any efforts to counteract the detrimental effects of drought, poverty and poppy eradication in their provinces. Anger is now commonly expressed in the south, and many Afghans who supported the international forces speak of them with hatred.
Where the international forces have failed to win hearts and minds, the Taliban have made efforts to fill the gap by providing essential services.
The large sums offered to their supporters prove that they are well financed and well organized, and there is a reported Taliban hospital base in Argandagh. As well, a man whose house was robbed inside Kandahar City, having been told by the local police that they could do nothing, went to the Taliban, who found a culprit and took him away.
Taliban members openly lobbied field workers for their support. These Taliban promised that they had dropped the cruel ways of the past and claimed that there is "no choice but to fight" against the foreigners who kill their women and children, destroy their shrines and disrespect their traditions.
Terribly poor families in villages who have seen no aid have said they would be happy to see the return of the Taliban if they could feed their families.
"In the villages, they had their crops destroyed, there is no water, no jobs, nothing to do," says a worker from Kandahar City. "Isn't it fair that they go and join the Taliban? Wouldn't you do the same thing?"
In an area in which many homes have an AK47 rifle, the teaching of terrorist techniques is once again taking place.
Former mujahedeen commanders in Kandahar province have been offered large sums to join the Taliban, as well as ongoing payments to fighters of up to $560 a month. A Kandahar policeman said that these amounts far exceed the wages many households can expect. His own salary is just $90 per month and he has not been paid regularly.
Several men in Kandahar province showed off propaganda DVDs and matchbooks "dropped from the sky by the Americans" offering cash for information about Osama bin Laden. Locals were mystified as to why the Americans had made their reward offer in Dari, when everyone in Kandahar speaks Pashtu.
Oversights such as this, together with the foreigners' aggressive poppy eradication programs, are being seized on by the Taliban as evidence of the international community's ineptitude.
Following from the international community's failure to engage with Afghan communities, five years of nation-building efforts have essentially been based on a misconception of Afghanistan's political realities.
Here, power is largely decentralized, vested in strong local control structures and in regional power-holders. Because these realities are ignored, the Afghan government has been unable to consolidate its power or extend the rule of law outside the main population centres.
The international community now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of maintaining an ineffective, unpopular government that is increasingly viewed as illegitimate.
In several of Afghanistan's provinces, the Taliban provides physical security through fighting the eradication forces that come to destroy farmers' livelihoods. The Taliban now has psychological and de facto military control of half of Afghanistan.
Unless the international community integrates the Afghan government with local institutions and improves the political security and legitimacy of the Kabul government, Taliban control is set to engulf the rest of Afghanistan.