The 5-Minute Briefing: Turmoil in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Last year, it held presidential elections. This year, it is holding its first democratic parliamentary elections, on 18 September. The US hopes to hold them up to show Afghanistan has made a successful transition to democracy since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. For Afghans, they will be the culmination of a tumultuous four years that have seen them go from living under the medieval religious law of the Taliban to founding their first parliament.

How is the current security situation in Afghanistan?

Bad and getting worse. Since the euphoria after last year's presidential elections passed without serious violence, the level of bloodshed in Afghanistan has risen drastically this year. More than 1,000 people have been killed in fighting over the past six months. The majority have been insurgents but nearly 200 Afghan civilians have died in the bloodiest six months since the fall of the Taliban, as well as about 100 members of the Afghan security forces. Sixty-six US soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year.

There have been attacks in Kabul, which was previously a haven from the violence. There have been two kidnappings of Westerners in Kabul, though in both cases the hostages have been released safely. In the Pashtun-dominated south and east, US and Afghan forces have fought full-scale battles with insurgents.

Who are the insurgents?

The majority appear to be a resurgent Taliban. It is believed they are being aided by volunteers crossing from Pakistan. They also appear to be getting help from al-Qa'ida remnants, or foreign volunteers with a similar ideology. Videos of insurgent attacks in Iraq have been distributed in Afghanistan.

What is the scale of resistance?

US and Afghan troops have fought a week-long operation to regain control of the Korengal Valley, in Konar province near the border with Pakistan. In June, the US suffered its worst defeat in Afghanistan in the area, when the Taliban shot down one of its helicopters, killing all 16 servicemen on board. The helicopter was on its way to rescue Navy Seals special forces on the run after being ambushed by insurgents. US forces yesterday declared the operation to retake the Korengal Valley a success, and said 40 suspected rebels had been killed. They said 65 insurgents had been killed in separate fighting in Zabol, to the south.

US soldiers who have been in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been quoted as saying the Taliban they encounter in battle are fighting even harder than the Iraqi insurgents. But so far, the resistance has not been anywhere near as widespread as in Iraq.

Are there fears the violence could affect the elections?

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections, but they said yesterday they would not target polling stations. Last year, there were widespread fears they would attack voters at polling stations, but in the event they did not.