Security in Afghanistan has not improved, says UN chief

A UN report today painted a grim picture of the security situation in Afghanistan, saying roadside bombings and assassinations have soared in the first four months of the year amid ramped up military operations in the Taliban-dominated south.

The United Nations' findings appeared at odds with Pentagon assertions this week claiming slow-but-steady progress in Afghanistan - an assessment challenged by US politicians during hearings on Capitol Hill.

The report, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitted to the UN Security Council this week, said Afghanistan's overall security situation "has not improved" since his last report in March.

Roadside bombings in the first four months of 2010 skyrocketed 94 per cent over the same period of 2009, and assassinations of Afghan officials jumped 45 per cent, mostly in the ethnic Pashtun south, which has become the focus of the war, the report said.

Suicide attacks occurred at a rate of about three per week, half in the restive south. The increase in complex attacks - using a combination of suicide bombers and small-arms fire - pointed to Taliban groups linked with al-Qa'ida, the report said.

The study found some encouraging signs, however, including the government's plan to reach out to insurgents and offer economic incentives to leave the battlefield. It also said the UN was working with Afghan officials to prepare for parliamentary elections in September.

Nevertheless, the UN found the number of security incidents had "increased significantly compared to previous years", in large part because of more military operations in the south early this year.

Nato spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz told reporters in the capital today that despite negative assessments, the international force was making steady strides.

"Tough fighting is expected to continue, but the situation is trending in our favour as more forces flow into the area," Blotz said.

He said joint Nato and Afghan forces were stepping up the pace of identifying and killing those responsible for attacks. Insurgent commanders were being apprehended by coalition forces, which over time would disrupt the ability to organise suicide and roadside bomb attacks, he said.

"It has to be tougher perhaps before it goes easier," said Blotz.

Blotz said the number of civilians killed or wounded in operations involving the international force dropped by 44.4 per cent in the past 12 weeks, compared with the same period in 2009.

"In the same period of time, the number of civilian casualties caused by the insurgency increased by 36 per cent," Blotz said.

Two Afghan civilians were killed yesterday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Marjah district of Helmand province, the Afghan Interior Ministry reported today.

Three Afghan soldiers were killed and two others wounded by a roadside bomb in Paktia province in south-eastern Afghanistan, according to the deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Dastagir.

Casualties among the US and Nato force also are on the rise this month as thousands of reinforcements stream into Afghanistan - part of President Barack Obama's plan to try to stem the rise of the Taliban.

Five Nato troops including three Americans died in fighting yesterday, raising this month's death toll among international forces to 53, including 34 Americans.

June is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months for US troops in the nearly nine-year-old Afghan war, as insurgents step up attacks in response to a Nato push into Taliban strongholds in the south.

The deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan was October 2009, when 59 Americans died. The deadliest of the war for the entire international force was July 2009 when 75 troops, including 44 Americans, were killed.

Despite the violence, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates insisted Wednesday the US-led force was making progress and complained about negative perceptions taking root in Washington about the war.

"I think that we are regaining the initiative," Gates told a Senate panel in Washington. "I think that we are making headway."

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