A leading renegade commander in Afghanistan says the insurgency against the transitional government and its coalition allies is entering a "crucial stage," as the country marks its second year since the fall of the hard-line Taleban regime. The statement comes amid allegations that the Afghan government has lost control over parts of the country.
In a signed statement sent to local media on Monday, rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar dismisses the Afghan transition government as a puppet of the United States, and says efforts to adopt a new constitution are meaningless.
Hekmatyar, who served as Afghanistan's prime minister before the rise of the strictly religious Taleban, has joined Taleban remnants in armed opposition to the current government. The United States has classified him as a terrorist.
The statement, which observers say is genuine, also warns other nations against expanding their peacekeeping roles in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar's message comes as Afghanistan prepares to mark the second anniversary of the Taleban's loss of the capital, Kabul, to Afghan and American troops.
The period since then has seen continued attacks by Taleban and Hekmatyar loyalists, along with allied militants from the al-Qaida terror network.
Vikram Parekh, an Afghanistan-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, says the frequency of such attacks is rising as the Taleban regroups its forces. "I think that what happened over the past year is that individual Taleban commanders bought their way out of northern Afghanistan, resurfaced in the south and began to reassemble," he said.
Afghan and American forces have a mounted a series of campaigns to root out the insurgents, with the most recent - Operation Mountain Resolve - launched Friday in the eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
The U.S. military said on Tuesday that the new offensive has resulted in two skirmishes, with one rebel killed in action.
In the southern province of Zabul, however, the deputy provincial governor says that Taleban fighters have taken effective control over several districts, despite a recent coalition offensive in the area.
While other provincial officials deny this claim, Mr. Parekh says Zabul has long served as a stronghold of Taleban power. "I think the situation in Zabul was essentially that the central government never really had direct authority over much of the province," he said.
Mr. Parekh says the central government has seen more success in provinces like Khost, where it has appointed strong local administrations and backed them with professional police and military units.