5 September 2006
Five years after their removal from power: The Taliban are back
Taliban Frontline now cuts half-way through Afghanistan
US and UK led failed counter-narcotics policies are responsible
Humanitarian crisis hits southern Afghanistan – extreme poverty, drought and hundreds of thousands starving in south
LONDON – The Taliban have regained control over the southern half of Afghanistan and their frontline is advancing daily, warned ICOS on the release of an evaluation report of the reconstruction of Afghanistan marking the five year anniversary of 9/11. The Report is based on extensive field research in the critical provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Herat and Nangarhar.
The Taliban frontline now cuts half-way through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces. ICOS Afghanistan reports that five years after the 2001 US-led invasion, a humanitarian crisis of starvation and poverty has gripped the south of the country and that the US and UK-led failed counter-narcotics and military policies are responsible. The subsequent rising levels of extreme poverty have created increasing support for the Taliban, who have responded to the needs of the local population.
Taliban’s return to power is a direct consequence of the flawed approach that the US-led international community has taken in Afghanistan since 2001
“When you first came here we were so glad to see you. Now we have lived with you in our country for five years and we see you tell a lot of lies and make a lot of false promises,” says a former Mujaheedin commander from Kandahar quoted in the Report.
The US-led nation-building efforts have failed because of ineffective and inflammatory military and counter narcotics policies. At the same time there has been a dramatic under-funding of aid and development programs.
“Huge amounts of money have been spent on large and costly military operations, but after five years southern Afghanistan is once more a battlefield for the control of the country,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “At the same time Afghans are starving. The US has lost control in Afghanistan and has in many ways undercut the new democracy in Afghanistan. I think we can call that a failure, and one with dire consequences which should concern us all. The US policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe-haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy.”
Emergency Food Aid needed now: “Children are dying here”
Due to lack of funding from the international community the Afghan Government and the United Nation’s World Food Programme are unable to address Afghanistan’s hunger crisis. Despite appeals for aid funds, the US-led international community has continued to direct the majority of aid funds towards military and security operations.
“The United Nations World Food Programme has been forced to cancel plans to provide more than 2.5 million Afghans with urgent food aid,” said Reinert. “Unless these needs are met, this will have dire consequences for millions of Afghans.”
Hunger and the insurgency: Hunger Leads to Anger
“Five years after 9/11, Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world and there is a hunger crisis in the fragile Southern part of the country,” said Reinert. “Remarkably this vital fact seems to have been overlooked in funding and prioritisation of the foreign policy, military, counter narcotics and reconstruction plans.
Relieving poverty, which should have been the main priority, has not received the attention it so desperately needed. Consequently the international community has lost the battle for the hearts and mind of the Afghan people.
The Report reveals that makeshift, unregistered refugee camps of starving children, civilians displaced by counter narcotics eradication and bombing campaigns can be found on the doorstep of new US and UK multi million dollar military camps.
“I took my child to the graveyard, my child died of hunger. There are children dying here,” said a man in one of these camps in Kandahar Province.
“Hunger leads to anger,” said Reinert. “Farmers who have had their poppy crop eradicated by the US and UK led eradication campaign now see their children facing starvation.”
These camps also accommodate families who have left their home due to violence and fighting. Some are there because their homes have been destroyed by coalition forces’ interventions in the ‘war on terror’ and the current heightened counter-insurgency operations.
A man in a camp in Lashkar Gah is quoted in the Report as saying, “After the bombing I moved to Lashkar Gah…I am afraid and terrified.” There have been no official camps established to provide for civilians who left their villages due to US bombing campaigns.
Hunger has led to anger against the rich foreign community the Afghans see in their country. This and the crop eradication policies provide a perfect breeding ground for the Taliban propaganda against the foreign presence in Afghanistan.
US and UK-led failed counter-narcotics policies are responsible for the hunger crisis and the return of the Taliban
By triggering both anger and a hunger crisis in southern Afghanistan, US and UK-led counter-narcotics policies are directly responsible for the breakdown in security and the return of the Taliban.
“Forced poppy crop eradication is an anti-poor policy,” said Reinert. “Poppy cultivation means survival for thousands of Afghans. By destroying entire communities’ livelihoods, without any alternative plan for how the farmers would feed their families, the current eradication programmes are pushing farmers straight back into the arms of the Taliban.”
A worker in Kandahar city is quoted as saying “In the villages, they had their crops destroyed, there is no water, no jobs, nothing to do – isn’t it fair that they go and join the Taliban? Wouldn’t you do the same thing?”
The wrong priorities since 2001
“Prioritising the ‘war on terror’ over the ‘war on poverty’ has recreated the exact situation it was intended to remove in southern Afghanistan,” said Reinert. “Right from 2001, the US-led international community’s priorities for Afghanistan were not in line with those of the Afghan population. It is a classic military error: they did not properly identify the enemy.”
An Afghan commander in Kandahar province is quoted as saying “The foreigners came here and said they would help the poor people and improve the economic situation, and they only spend money on their military operations. The poor people are poorer now than when the Taliban were the government. We don’t trust them anymore. We would be fools to continue to believe their lies.”
Military expenditure outpaces development and reconstruction spending by 900% – the wrong priority
82.5 billion USD has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan since 2002 compared to just 7.3 billion USD on development.
Focus on poverty relief and development could have created a solid foundation on which to re-build Afghanistan. Instead, the focus on “securing” Afghanistan with aggressive military tactics has led the Afghan population to mistrust the reasons for the large international military presence in their country.
The large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths have also fuelled resentment and mistrust of the international military presence.
“We have a saying about you now: Your blood is blood, our blood is just water to you,” the Report notes a former Mujaheedin commander from Kandahar as saying.
There were 104 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the month of July alone.
Faced with the return of the Taliban, the US and the international community must immediately reassess entire approach in Afghanistan
“Emergency poverty relief must now be the top priority,” said Reinert. “Only then can we talk of nation-building and reconstruction. A complete overhaul of the failed counter-narcotics strategies is urgently needed. We must try and win back the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. The Taliban are advancing north every day. This should concern us all.”
Research for the Report was carried out throughout Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 2006 by ICOS Afghanistan teams of Afghan and international researchers.