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Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north

Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.

By Anand GopalCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 29, 2008

Attacked: Militants tried to assassinate President Hamid Karzai in KabulSunday.

Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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Kabul, Afghanistan

The attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai Sunday came as the latest sign of a trend worrying Western officials: that the insurgency is spreading from the Taliban stronghold of the south to the central and northern regions of the country.

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The militant attack, the biggest in Kabul since mid-March, came during a public ceremony. Despite a massive security presence, militants managed to fire bullets and rockets at the president, killing two nearby lawmakers and a boy.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has not been "contained," Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified before a Senate subcommittee in February. "It's been sustained in the south, it's grown a bit in the east, and what we've seen are elements of it spread to the west and the north."

A recent study by Sami Kovanen, an analyst with the security firm Vigilant Strategic Services of Afghanistan, echoed this assessment. He reported 465 insurgent attacks in areas outside the restive southern regions during the first three months of 2008, a 35 percent increase compared with the same period last year. In the central region around Kabul there have been 80 insurgent attacks from January through March of this year, a 70 percent jump compared to the first three months of last year.

The numbers are part of a nationwide trend of rising violence. In the southern and southeastern provinces, including the insurgent hotbeds of Kandahar and Helmand, guerrilla attacks spiked by 40 percent, according to Mr. Kovanen's research.

Kabul itself has been largely free from the violence, but as Sunday's attack shows, there are signs that the Taliban's presence is growing here, too. On the sprawling, serene campus of Kabul University, where the nation sends many of its best and brightest, the Taliban has reached an unprecedented level of influence, students say.

Young men gather in campus dorm rooms and watch slickly produced DVDs of the latest insurgent attacks. One video shows Taliban fighters firing rocket launchers and shrieking, "God is the greatest!" as orange fireballs reach their targets, presumably Coalition forces, in the distance. The attacks are set to religious music, backed by a staccato drumbeat meant to impassion and inspire viewers.

"Many of us have contact with Taliban leadership," says one student and Taliban member, who asked to be called Naqibullah. "I talk to commanders based in the south maybe once a week on the phone." Naqibullah and others like him disseminate Taliban propaganda throughout the university, hoping especially to reach students from various parts of the country.

Naqibullah suggests that places like Kabul University might be a fertile recruiting ground for operations in the capital and in northern areas of the country. "There are many students waiting to launch suicide attacks," he says. "One student launched a suicide attack in Bagram," an American base north of the capital.

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