Hundreds of suspected Taliban have been killed this year by the coalition's ground and air strikes in southern Afghanistan. Tailban fighters also have increased the frequency and veracity of their attacks compared to recent years. The death toll is also boosted by civilian casualties caused mainly by suicide bombers.
The escalation of violence in Afghanistan comes as NATO troops prepare to take over security operations from U.S.-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.
General Peter Pace, who is chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week during a visit to India that the death toll is particularly high in southern Afghanistan because Taliban fighters are concentrating their forces more than in the past.
A Tactical Problem
"In the last two months, the Taliban have been conducting larger attacks this year than they did during the same time last year," Pace said. "The problem for the Taliban is that as they have gotten larger groups together, they have become much bigger targets. And they have lost about 300 Taliban in the last two months during those operations. So the Taliban are a tactical problem for the coalition in Afghanistan. [But] the coalition in Afghanistan is a strategic problem for the Taliban."
NATO spokesman Mark Laity said in Kabul today that it is not right for journalists to characterize the violence as worse than any time since 2001. But all agree that there has been an upsurge in Taliban attacks. "I would slightly challenge the word 'worse,'" he said. "I think the situation is probably more difficult and more complicated than in the past because there is an upsurge in attacks."
In London, independent defense analyst Ian Kemp said the Taliban is simply trying to undermine public support for the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force into southern Afghan provinces like Kandahar and Helmand.
"One reason for the increase in violence is [because the Taliban wants] to show the NATO forces as they arrive that they are not going to have the situation their own way," Kemp said. "And the second reason is that there is going to be an impact on public opinion. This is going to serve to undermine public morale in [NATO's] troop-contributing nations."
Coalition Forces More Offensive
Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL's analyst on Afghanistan, said recent Taliban attacks are a reaction by militants to increased offensive operations by NATO and the U.S.-led coalition. He said the reasons for the escalation of violence are mainly twofold.
"One is the offensive nature of the coalition forces right now," Tarzi said. "There is a [coalition] effort to clear [things] up, especially in southern Afghanistan, before NATO takes over there totally in July. [And the Taliban] are being attacked, so you see more reaction [by them as well.] The second [reason] is a broadening of the base of the opposition -- what I call the neo-Taliban. There is a manifestation of different groups within the neo-Taliban. [And there is] the Afghan government's own inability to even recognize their own enemy. They don't want to officially recognize the enemy because there is a political issue. All of that combined has created a more violent situation."
Tarzi said some recent violence reported as Taliban attacks may be related, instead, to Afghan drug lords trying to protect opium harvests and smuggling routes.
Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of an international security and development policy group called the Senlis Council, said ordinary Afghans are increasingly angry about civilian casualties caused by foreign troops. He said efforts by the Afghan government and its Western backers to eradicate poppy cultivation also contributes to greater sympathy in some regions for Taliban fighters.
"The local population is now totally disillusioned in relation to what the government in Kabul and the coalition has been trying to do," Reinert said. "They see no change in their daily lives. They still live in extreme poverty. And this is only getting worse. And the only thing they see coming from Kabul is eradication forces destroying their livelihoods -- and kids and women being killed."
During a visit to Tokyo on June 6, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta admitted that the Afghan government and its international supporters have made mistakes in the way they are conducting the war on terrorism.
"The problem is, I think, we have [made] some mistakes in our war against international terrorism because we have [aimed] our war against terrorism -- and [against] the phenomenon of terrorism in Afghanistan -- at the symptoms of terrorism," Spanta said. "But not against the sources of terrorism. And this is the main problem."
Spanta concluded that the three most important and critical challenges now facing Afghanistan are terrorism, drug lords, and how to make the government in Kabul more effective so that it can better deliver services to the people of Afghanistan.