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International groups bleak about Afghanistan

Two separate international organizations have painted a bleak picture of Afghanistan less than two years before international combat troops are scheduled to complete their withdrawal from the war-torn country.

The outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan said on Monday that the situation for ordinary civilians in the country had worsened since he first arrived seven years ago.

"Since I arrived here in 2005, local armed groups have proliferated, civilians have been caught between not just one but multiple front lines, and it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Afghans, particularly out in the rural areas, to obtain health care when injured or sick," Reto Stocker told reporters in Kabul.

"We see a conflict that is growing more and more local, that is fought in the villages," he said. Several districts in Kunduz have a relatively low number of formal civil defense initiatives... but a lot of (pro-government) militias that are not reporting within any formal chain of command in Kabul."

Think tank report

Also on Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank released a report warning of the danger that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government could collapse after international forces leave.

"Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and NATO forces withdraw in 2014," the ICG said in a statement.

It also warned that the danger of the already unpopular government collapsing could increase if Afghanistan's next presidential election, also to be held in 2014, was perceived not to be fair.

"In the current environment, prospects for clean elections and a smooth transition are slim," the report said.

US and other NATO combat forces first entered Afghanistan a month after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington that killed almost 3,000 people. At their peak, they had around 130,000 troops in the country.

When they leave, Afghan security forces are to assume complete responsibility, but the ICG argues that in their current state, they simply are not up to what promises to be a very difficult task.

pfd/dr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)