Death tolls set to spiral as allied forces face 40 attacks every day

Karzai meets Cameron as new report says a resurgent Taliban financed by the opium trade are behind an increase in assaults on British troops

British troops in Afghanistan are coming under the fiercest and most sustained assault since the start of the conflict nine years ago, with coalition forces subjected to more than 40 attacks each day in March: double the rate of a year ago. Attacks by the Taliban between September 2009 and March 2010 leapt by 83 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to a new report released this month by the US Government Accountability Office.

This in turn is greater than the 75 per cent increase between 2008 and 2009, when the Taliban launched 21,000 attacks. Worse, the violence is expected to grow even more ferocious in the coming months as US and British forces fight to retake Taliban-held territory in the south of the country.

Ineffective governance and money from the opium trade are cited as factors behind the continuing resilience of the insurgency.

The prediction comes as pressure mounts on President Hamid Karzai to lead by example, with corruption a key area in talks held with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, yesterday.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday after his talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Friday: "This may be a decisive year in Afghanistan... Progress is being made, but now we have to see an effective political process as well... and that's where our efforts in British relations with President Karzai and his government will come over the coming weeks in a strongly co-ordinated way."

Professor Anatol Lieven, of the Department of War Studies, King's College London, said yesterday that the outlook was gloomy. "The increase in violence is a sign that support for the Taliban has increased, that the Taliban have had no problems in replenishing their weapon supplies."

He added: "The choice is between fighting on indefinitely or begin serious attempts at talks with the Taliban."

The death toll of British soldiers continues to rise, with Corporal Christopher Harrison, 26, 40 Commando Royal Marines, becoming the 285th to die in the conflict when he was killed in an explosion last Sunday. This year, 137 British soldiers have been seriously wounded in action and hundreds more admitted to hospital.

It could get worse in the coming months, with the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar being the target of what commanders are calling the "most difficult and the most important" operation since the war began.

Major General Nick Carter, the British commander in charge of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, said on Thursday that it was imperative security is established in Kandahar, where "warlords and power brokers" benefit from "lawlessness, criminality and a culture of impunity".

But senior military figures warned last night that the spiralling cost in British lives could see the war lost due to declining public support.

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Helmand province, said: "While there's no chance of our forces being defeated in the field, there is every chance of us losing this war at home."

Rooting out corruption within the Karzai regime is crucial, and Britain needs to put more funding and resources into developing economic capacity and governance, argued Col Kemp. "The reform of the Kabul government is an absolute priority for us – it's got to be fixed and we have to play our role in fixing it."

He added: "The Taliban's level of activity has been increasing since 2005 and they have developed momentum which they are maintaining."

British forces have blunted the Taliban's ambitions, rather than destroying them, and more troops could be needed, he said. "War is not an exact science in which you can say we need this number and then we'll be able to defeat the enemy ... If the number is not [enough], we need to be prepared to deploy more people to deal with that situation."

Col Kemp condemned US officials for having an expectation of reducing troop levels next year. "The trouble with sending a message out that's anything other than a total commitment to keep going until we achieve our objectives is that it risks encouraging the enemy.... It's not necessarily the right thing to do to declare a withdrawal timetable based purely on timings rather than conditions."

Any sign of wavering could be costly, said Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute. "If we give any indication, as we are doing, that we're not going to stay for at least another five years, then we might as well leave now."

It was 22 years ago this weekend that Soviet troops began leaving Afghanistan after eight years of occupation. It remains to be seen if history will repeat itself.

Foreign flashpoints

Europe Lib Dem MEPs are more to the left of Nick Clegg, while their Tory counterparts are to the right of David Cameron. Both sides showed a united front this weekend. But no one expects this to last: this Tuesday, George Osborne will go to Brussels to vote down tougher regulations on hedge funds – that were pushed through by Lib Dem MEPs.

Iran The Liberal Democrat manifesto promised to categorically rule out military action against Iran. So many Lib Dems were aghast when William Hague's first act as Foreign Secretary was to pledge, following talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "strong continuity" with Washington on Iran.

Middle East Lib Dems are traditionally sympathetic to the Palestinian, rather than Israeli, viewpoint on this trickiest of foreign policy issues. Ed Davey, who was until last week Mr Clegg's foreign affairs spokesman, concurred with this view – which observers say explains why he's now a minister of state at the Business Department. This has already caused alarm among activists.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?