The Times of London reports on a leaked UN staff map of Afghanistan (reproduced nearby, I hope), showing security risk levels. The map not only reveals a "marked deterioration in security since 2005" (Times), but also adds support to a recent Senlis Council report (see blog entry here) which asserted that the Taliban control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries".
NATO, true to form, has denied or dismissed the Senlis Council's assertions:
Brigadier-General Carlos Branco, an ISAF spokesman, insisted yesterday that the Taleban controls only five out of fifty-nine districts in southern Afghanistan. But the withdrawal of aid workers is undeniable.The Times continues:
Nato has taken on much development work in dangerous areas through provincial reconstruction teams, in which soldiers build schools or dig wells as part of a “hearts and minds” programme. Aid professionals say that much of their work is poor. The other main method of carrying out development work in the south is through for-profit corporations whose staff venture out only in armed cars protected by heavily armed mercenaries.
Nic Lee, from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, said: “It is getting worse. The Taleban are making significant inroads in provincial centres.”
If one strains, one can see on the map that there are parts of two provinces in the north-central area of Afghanistan which are designated "medium risk". These are Badghis and Faryab provinces and they are part of Uzbek warlord Dostum's area of activity. There have been rumours of late that Dostum's militia is rearming and mobilizing in response to decreased government legitimacy. Also, there are reports (by former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray) that Dostum's people run opium and heroin accross the northern border to President Karimov's Uzbekistan. (Karimov was, you'll recall, the dictator who boiled dissidents alive.)
But Badghis and Faryab are also called, by IWPR, the Taliban's northern front:
Badghis, a north-western province wedged between Herat and Faryab, has been the scene of heavy fighting for the past two months, and the insurgents have occupied most of the mountainous parts of three of the province's seven districts. They have also established intelligence and operational networks in most district centres.We also blogged (here) a month ago about clashes between Taliban and government forces in Badghis: "Residents accused rebels as well as security forces of forcing civilians from homes," wrote Pajhwok News.
Again looking at the map: In the northeast, there are similarly medium risk levels in Badghis, where a recent suicide bombing resulted in the mysterious "bodyguards" of visiting MPs firing into a crowd of children (see blog here). Also, in the very northeast is several districts of Badakshan province. This area has been the scene of recent attacks by gunmen with no known connection to the Taliban (see here, here and here).