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    Taliban Control Spreads in Afghanistan

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    Eight years after the terror strike on the United States, which prompted an invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, there are indications that the insurgents are continuing to widen their reach inside the country. Meanwhile, some high-ranking British and American officials are expressing mounting concern about Afghanistan's fraud-tainted election process.

    A respected international think tank has released a new map showing, for the first time, the Taliban have a "permanent presence" in 80 percent of Afghanistan.  "Permanent presence" in a province is defined as one or more insurgent attacks - lethal and non-lethal - per week.

    Alexander Jackson is a policy analyst at the International Council on Security and Development in London.

    "We're now seeing Taliban control across the country. And one of the most significant things that we're seeing in this latest map is the increased level of Taliban presence in the north of the country. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh, which previously were relatively stable, are now seeing very high levels of Taliban activity," he said.

    And that has resulted in a drastic increase of insurgent attacks against Afghan government, international and civilian targets in those areas.
    The report's release comes at a sensitive time.

    The Obama administration is debating whether to deepen its commitment to the war in Afghanistan, which is becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States.

    The current government in Kabul appears to be facing a more immediate threat, however, not from the Taliban but due to concerns about its own credibility.

    Rising concerns are being voiced by both Afghans and the international community about how the August 20th presidential election was carried out. Partial - but disputed - results show incumbent President Hamid Karzai with a comfortable lead.

    British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has told BBC Television that Afghanistan needs a credible government that can actually lead that country in a serious way. Miliband is expressing concerns about the serious fraud allegations stemming from last month's election. He says "free and fair" would not be an accurate description of the balloting.
     
    But the top U.S. diplomat for Afghanistan has told the British broadcaster a rerun of the tainted election is "out of the question."  Richard Holbrooke, in a BBC interview, said a drawn-out process would benefit the Taliban and al-Qaida.

    Full preliminary election tabulations are expected to be released Saturday by the country's government-appointed Independent Election Commission. But another entity, the U.N.-supervised Election Complaints Commission, is ordering a partial recount and says it is investigating hundreds of serious fraud allegations.

    President Karzai has more than 50 percent of the vote - enough to avoid a run-off election against challenger Abdullah Abdullah. But the former foreign minister says he will not accept the results, alleging favoritism in the process for the incumbent and the inclusion of tainted votes amid widespread reports of wholesale ballot box stuffing by Karzai supporters.

    In the eastern part of the country, two more soldiers of the  NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have been killed. This year has become the deadliest for the foreign troops since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. 



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