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Afghan Envoy Says Taliban Strength Growing
Barry Schweid
Associated Press
05/12/2006

Taliban strength in Afghanistan is on the rise and even with a growing NATO security force, the country's defenses against explosive devices and suicide bombings are severely strained, the Afghan ambassador said Friday.

Taliban, which controlled the South Asian country for five years until it was toppled in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, is acquiring more sophisticated weapons and motorcycles from abroad and continues to receive training in neighboring Pakistan, Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad said in an interview.

Taliban fighters are crossing the border into Afghanistan 15 to 20 at a time, and are able to kill five or six Afghan police officers, who are trying to make do with old Soviet-era jeeps, with a single mine, Jawad said.

"So what we need and demand is better help for our police forces and also resources to strength district-level administration," the ambassador said.

According to the Pentagon, 23,000 American forces currently are in Afghanistan.

NATO, meanwhile, is increasing its security force from 9,000 to a total of 21,000 by the end of the year, he said.

One reason for the spike in Taliban terror attacks, Jawad said, was the NATO expansion in the south of the country. "The terrorists hope to deter NATO countries and get them to change their minds by attacking NATO troops," he said.

On Monday, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, told reporters at the Pentagon that U.S. troop levels had increased by about 15 percent since the beginning of the year and that he was not ready to recommend a reduction.

Jawad, however, said he expects the U.S. deployment to be slashed by up to 3,000.

Eikenberry said the surge in Taliban attacks was due more to weak government institutions than a major improvement in Taliban's strength.

But Jawad told The Associated Press Friday that Afghan troops were stretched thin and up against better weapons in the hands of the Taliban.

In some instances, he said, 10 to 15 Afghan soldiers are deployed to defend districts hundreds of miles wide. The soldiers are poorly trained, not properly equipped, some have not been paid for months and some have only two clips of ammunition, he said.

"They are brave, but they are very vulnerable," Jawad said.

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