Seven years ago on 11. Sept., Islamist militants launched several devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US. Immediately began the preparations for a revenge attack on Afghanistan -- to punish and topple the Taliban, who had supported and financed the al-Qaeda terror network that claimed responsibility. The US and its allies set themselves the goal of toppling the Islamist regime and bringing democracy to Afghanistan. The Taliban were ousted from power but not crushed -- seven years later, their influence is increasing across the war-torn country and the security situation is worsening by the day.
There is still a long way to go before Afghanistan is rebuilt and there is a strong democracy and infrastructure
Not that long ago, Afghanistan was still considered a success story. The Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies had been driven out of power and a friend of the West -- President Hamid Karzai -- was in the driving seat. The war had been won, now it was a question of winning the peace and reconstructing the country.
But since 2006, things have gone badly wrong for the US-led coalition forces, which are battling an ever more intense insurgency.
"There’s a nexus of the insurgency, which involves groups such as the Taliban. It’s facilitated by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and there’s a mixing in of criminal elements, of rogue smuggling elements, of narco-traffickers,” none of which are “interested in having a strong viable Afghan government,” explains General David McKiernan, the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Coalition forces versus Taliban
There are almost 70,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan -- 50,000 of them belong to ISAF. Although their equipment and numbers are superior to those of the insurgents they have not been able to beat the insurgents who do what they like ruthlessly and take refuge, if need be, in the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan.
The Taliban found safe haven here after the US-led attack on Afghanistan. They have since been able to regroup; amassing financial resources and intelligence.
The ISAF mandate prevents coalition forces from attacking these regions in Pakistan. But in recent months there have been several unconfirmed reports of US-drone attacks launched from Afghanistan, which have killed militants and civilians. These attacks have added to growing resentment on both sides of the border.
Tapping into resentment
Joanna Nathan from International Crisis Group in Kabul says such attacks play into the insurgents’ hand: "What the Taliban have been very clever about doing in the country is picking up on issues that already are very deeply felt -- they tap into wells of resentment and alienation here.”
As more Afghan civilians have fallen victim to coalition attacks in recent months, resentment has soared. The coalition forces are no longer seen as an army of liberation from the Taliban but a brutal army of occupation.
Hamid Karzai’s weak government is also becoming increasingly unpopular.
Parallel power structures
In some parts of the south, the Taliban have created parallel power structures, with shadow governors, district chiefs and assemblies.
"The reason they’re successful is that they’re working against a government structure that’s broken and has been broken for 30 years. In some ways the other enemy is the fact that we collectively haven’t been able to get the government of Afghanistan, at this level, down in the south, to stand up,” explains General Denis Thomson is head of the Canadian ISAF contingent in the province of Kandahar.
The administration remains dogged by corruption, nepotism and incompetence. Moreover, although the rebuilding of the army is making progress, the same cannot be said of the police.
Despite the billions that have been pumped into Afghanistan, the country remains one of the five least-developed in the world. At the moment, the coalition seems to have found no solution other than deploying more troops to the war-torn land and imposing stability by force.
Germany is planning to send another 1,000 troops in the near future, bringing the number of German men and women in Afghanistan to 4,500.