"Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall", reports David Rohde of the New York Times. The area in question is in the Zhari and Panjwai districts of Kandahar, where Operation Medusa was fought one year ago. (See this map of the Medusa battlefield.)
The Taliban took advantage of the recent rotation of Canadian troops which saw Quebec's Van Doos regiment take over duties in Kandahar. Insurgents "overran isolated police posts and are now operating in areas where they can mount attacks on Kandahar, the south’s largest city."
The pullback left two Afghan police posts in Panjwai largely unprotected, [Kandahar's provincial police chief] said. On Aug. 7, the Taliban attacked the posts simultaneously. For several hours, the police held them off and called for help from Canadian forces, he said, but none arrived. Sixteen policemen were killed.Rohde then offers some figures which reveal the escalation of the insurgency this year as compared to last:
“The Canadians didn’t support them," [he] said.
According to an internal United Nations tally, insurgents set off 516 improvised explosive devices in 2007. Another 402 improvised explosive devices were discovered before detonation.NATO and American troop fatalities are also up 20% over last year.
Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year
So what does this increase mean on the ground? Rohde sees a stalemate:
Recent visits to three southern provinces revealed territorial divisions that largely resembled those of last year. In Kandahar and Helmand, the government has a strong presence in about half of each province, the local police said. And in Oruzgan Province, where Dutch NATO forces focus more on development programs than on combat, the government controls the provincial capital, several district centers and little of the countryside.