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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Rand...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering