Fierce fighting broke out on Thursday in southern Afghanistan when scores of Taliban insurgents attacked an Afghan Army convoy on the main highway south of the capital. Afghan officials said that the Taliban were beaten back by soldiers and police officers, and that 35 insurgents were killed, including several foreign fighters, and five were captured.
The battle came as NATO‘s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned of critical danger to Afghanistan, with foreign fighters and terrorists trying to destabilize the country. He called for greater international attention to the problem.
“Those people – and we see too many of them in recent weeks and months – who are coming into Afghanistan to create mischief and havoc, those people who want to destabilize Afghanistan, and those people are killing NATO forces as well, are the same who are after the destabilizing of Pakistan and the destabilizing of other parts of the world,” he said.
Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said that the situation was unacceptable and that a regional political approach was needed to address the threat. “I cannot imagine anyone who would consider it acceptable that many terrorists from all over the world gather in a certain area and create mischief and havoc there,” he said.
NATO has some 53,000 soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, who “are also the victims of the surge and the uptick in violence in incidences we have seen recently,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said.
“More than ever we need a regional approach in trying to stem this problem,” he added. “Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the international community in a more general sense, have to pay more political attention to this very serious problem.”
Both Afghan and Western officials have said that more foreign fighters and trainers have been arriving in Pakistan’s tribal areas and infiltrating Afghanistan to mount attacks in recent months.
Some have suggested that the influx may be a sign that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are turning their attention from Iraq to Afghanistan. The foreign fighters include Arabs, Turks, Chechens, Central Asians and Pakistanis, and some have been killed or captured in Afghanistan, according to a Western official in Kabul who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In another sign of Al Qaeda’s growing prominence in the area, the network’s operational leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Egyptian, gave an interview to the Pakistani television channel Geo that was broadcast this week. In the interview, he claimed that Al Qaeda was growing in strength in Afghanistan and would soon occupy the entire country.
The Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, also said recently that more foreigners were in the lawless tribal areas along Afghanistan’s border and warned that an assault like the Sept. 11 attacks could emanate from there.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who has frequently complained of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan causing instability in Afghanistan, said some Afghan provinces close to the border were now under serious threat.
“We will not be secure and safe in Afghanistan unless Afghanistan and the international community address the question of sanctuaries in Pakistan, and the terrorist training camps there, and the motivation they get there,” he said.
Mr. Karzai brushed off accusations by a former State Department official, Thomas Schweich, that he was obstructing the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan. The accusations came in an article for The New York Times Magazine by Mr. Schweich that was posted on the Web on Wednesday.
“What he said is his own idea,” Mr. Karzai said. “He criticizes the American government, Britain, ISAF forces and the Afghan government.”
“This campaign is a long-term, time-consuming campaign,” he said. “It is not to be done in one or two years. It is related directly to the economy of the country. It is related directly to bringing peace in our country.”
Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting.
Date: July 25, 2008