Afghanistan's insurgency spreading north
Militant attacks are increasing outside the Taliban's southern stronghold, such as Sunday's on President Hamid Karzai.
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"I, too, would like to become a suicide bomber," Naqibullah continues. "But educated Taliban like me are needed to teach the uneducated ones." Instead, the young man is training to become a doctor so he can eventually treat the war wounds of Taliban fighters.Skip to next paragraph
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Insurgents' influence is spreading to the northern and western regions of the country as well, analysts say. In the northern province of Baghlan, insurgent group Hizb-i-Islami is growing in presence, says Antonio Giustozzi, a researcher at the London School of Economics and an expert on the Afghan insurgency. Hizb-i-Islami, once the country's leading mujahideen party, was a US and Pakistani ally when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Today it is considered one of the most effective insurgent groups in the north and east, and it is aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The group has received a surge of funding in the last year, says Mr. Giustozzi, allowing it to spread from its eastern stronghold near the Pakistani border – where it has launched many attacks against Coalition forces – into northern areas. "They are regrouping and reactivating old networks that existed during the Russian war and the '90s," he says.
Taliban insurgents are making headway in some districts in the far western province of Badghis, according to Satar Barez, deputy governor of the neighboring Faryab Province. "There are now frequent bombings and kidnappings in Badghis," Mr. Barez says. In the first quarter of 2007 there was just one insurgent attack in Badghis, but the guerrillas have already launched 17 in the first three months of this year.
While violence in the north has not reached the levels seen in the restive south, Giustozzi says that in many areas insurgents are in the initial stages of infiltration and propaganda, just as they were in the south after the 2001 invasion.
"We have openly engaged the government and foreign forces in the south, but in the north we are quietly expanding our area," a Taliban commander told reporters past year.
In some northern provinces, the Taliban issue "night letters," documents posted to villagers' doors at night threatening them if they spport the government or Coalition forces, locals report. The tactic has been highly successful in intimidating residents in the south and quelling support for the international presence.
But analysts say the insurgency is spread not by fear alone: A weak central government and the country's declining socioeconomic situation also bolster militants' efforts. "The population of Afghanistan is becoming disillusioned with the government," Halim Kousary, an analyst with Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, a Kabul-based think tank. "People in the north believe there hasn't been enough reconstruction."
Analysts suggest that the north is taking on increased importance to the Taliban because of the major drug smuggling routes that cut through it.