Power Struggle Goes On: The US Government Has Increased the Number of US Troops from 11,000 to 20,000 in the Hope of Destroying the Remnants of the Taliban in the South and Hunting Down Osama Bin Laden. but While the US Continues to Battle with Radical Militias and Terrorists, Security in Afghanistan Is Coming Apart

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OUR PROBLEMS ARE not as big as they are in Iraq. But if we don't do something soon, Afghanistan will be in the same situation," explained Lutfullah Mashal, special assistant to the Minister of interior in Afghanistan. "We are getting ever closer to chaos."

This spring, the Taliban, which has been able to regroup, launched an offensive that has left over 700 Afghanis dead. In recent weeks terrorist attacks in the north killed or seriously injured dozens of aid workers and civilians; a single assault on Chinese railway workers left 11 dead.

The Afghani interim government, headed by President Hamid Karzai, has limited control over only the capital area of Kabul. In June, there were attacks inside the city, including an early morning missile attack on Nato's headquarters.

"The central government cannot even control the capital," said Azizullah Lodin, president of General Administration of Anti-Bribery and Corruption. "If there were no foreign troops in Kabul, you wouldn't be able to walk the streets."

Analysts say the fresh attacks in the north are the work of the Taliban trying to expand into new areas. Its ultimate objective is in destabilise the country and derail the country's first democratic elections scheduled for September.

But new groups have emerged that might be operating with the same goal. "The main issue may be the upcoming elections. The Taliban and other groups have a vested interest in destabilising Afghanistan," said Mashal.

With a weak national army and police force, over a dozen powerful warlords have been able to regain control of their fiefdoms. These warlords, including Ismail Khan and Abdul Rashid Dostem in the north, have their own militias and show no willingness to cooperate with the government.

"The warlords do not obey central government, do not want to implement the rule of law in their provinces and are not ready to follow important changes decreed by government," said Lodin. "They want to destabilise the country because they fear programmes implemented by the central government might hurt their position and powerbase."

In March, when Karzai sent government troops to Khans stronghold in the north-western city of Herat, subsequent fighting led to the deaths of 100 people, including Khans son. A month later, Dostem's forces attacked the city of Meymaneh but eventually withdrew after Karzai's soldiers arrived from Kabul.

The government, working closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), recently initiated a programme to disarm soldiers of the numerous militias that have fought different enemies over the years, including the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, later, the Taliban. The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme has been slow. Although the goal was to take in 40,000 weapons by the time of elections, only 6,000 weapons have been collected in provinces near Kabul.

Another driving force behind moves to destabilise the country comes from the new drug lords who have established themselves in Afghanistan.

After opium production reached a record high in 1999, the Taliban put a stop to farmers growing poppies. But as lawlessness spread after the regime fell, opium production skyrocketed.

In 2003, over 80,000 hectares of land were used for poppy cultivation. Currently an estimated 75% of opium on the international market is believed to have originated in Afghanistan.

The government has started a programme to eradicate poppy cultivation, aiming to destroy 25,000 hectares of opium production this year. Many are concerned, however, that the programme does not go far enough. Until recently, Afghanistan was a supplier, providing the international market with opium as a raw material. Now the country is host to facilities that turn opium into heroin, an end product that is much more lucrative.

"There has been an increase in cultivation, but what is more worrisome is the complexity of the situation," said Alexandre Schmidt, UN drugs and crime prevention expert. …