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Eight years after 9/11, Taliban roils 80 percent of Afghanistan

The hijacking of a NATO supply truck and Stephen Farrell’s kidnapping have focused attention on rising insecurity in Afghanistan’s north, strikingly illustrated on a new map.

By Aunohita MojumdarCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 11, 2009

Kabul, Afghanistan

A retaliatory NATO airstrike that killed scores of civilians. The kidnapping of New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell. The deadly shooting of his Afghan translator and the death of a British soldier in a violent and controversial rescue operation days later.

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The events of this week have drawn attention to the unraveling security in northern Afghanistan in a way months of the creeping insurgency had not.

Long considered one of the most stable and peaceful parts of the country, the northern provinces have seen rising violence as heavy insurgent activity has spread to 80 percent of the country – up from 54 percent two years ago. (See map.) Under increasing pressure in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, militants who have long sought to extend their reach have turned their attention to the north, where NATO has established a second supply route in the wake of debilitating attacks on its southern pipeline.

"[Militants] have been trying to widen the ground for the insurgency in Afghanistan and now they have got momentum," says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. "The militants are eager to target this route to prevent a smooth supply chain from northern Afghanistan."

Last week's airstrike targeted two fuel tankers headed to supply NATO troops in Kabul that had been hijacked by the Taliban. Up to 70 civilians who had gathered to siphon fuel from the trucks, which had become mired in mud in Kunduz Province, were killed in the strike.

Kunduz has seen a particular uptick in insurgent activity, says Thomas Ruttig, founder of the Afghan Analysts Network, which he attributes to pressure on insurgents in neighboring Pakistan. On Friday, Pakistan announced it had captured a senior Taliban leader, Muslim Khan.

"The IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] have been pushed out of Waziristan and the north has Uzbek minorities," making the area hospitable for Uzbek militants, says Mr. Ruttig. While Kunduz itself does not border Uzbekistan, the neighboring province of Balkh borders Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and could become the main supply route for NATO supplies if security continues to worsen in Kunduz province.