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UN Official: Taleban Appears to Be Regaining Strength in Afghanistan - 2003-10-25

The head of U.N. peacekeeping operations says the Taliban appears to be regaining strength in large parts of Afghanistan. In a grim security assessment, the official warned that terrorist attacks are on the rise in the Afghan countryside, and that the United Nations could be a target. The assessment comes just days before Security Council ambassadors are due to visit Afghanistan.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council Friday that attacks by suspected terrorists against government, military and humanitarian personnel are steadily increasing. He noted that Afghan employees of foreign NGOs - including four working for the Danish group DACAAR - were executed as part of an effort to disrupt aid distribution.

"Four national staff from the NGO DACAAR were murdered by Taliban in Ghazni on September 8, according to the sole survivor, before being shot, the victims were informed that they were to be killed as punishment for working with NGOs," he said.

Mr. Guehenno pointed out that groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaida remain the prime source of insecurity in many Afghan provinces. In some places, he says Taliban elements have returned to power. In others, they never left.

"In several border districts, Marouf in Kandahar, Barmal and Gayan in Paktia, Taliban have been able to establish de facto control over district administration," said Mr. Guehenno.

On a day when international donors were pledging assistance to Iraq, the undersecretary-general reminded the Security Council that a similar conference on Afghanistan two years ago in Tokyo vastly underestimated the extent of that country's needs. He added that the lack of security has slowed delivery of reconstruction aid, if not outright prevented it in the most dangerous areas.

The undersecretary-general's report comes a week before most of the 15 Security Council ambassadors leave on a nine-day fact-finding mission to Kabul and at least three outlying provinces.

It also comes just a few days after an independent panel concluded that the entire U.N. security system is dysfunctional. The panel formed to investigate the bomb attacks at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad delivered a blistering indictment of the world body's security apparatus. The group's 40-page report recommended a top-to-bottom security reorganization before U.N. staff are redeployed in Iraq.