Mild winter aids insurgents on Afghan border, says US

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Attacks by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan rose in the past two months partly due to mild winter weather that allowed militants to cross mountain passes on Pakistan's border, a US military officer said on Friday. Attacks by the Taliban and allied groups increased by about 20 per cent in the past year and by 30 per cent in the first two months of 2009, Colonel Pete Johnson said from Afghanistan in a videoconference with reporters. The violence "has risen somewhat largely I believe due to the really good weather that the enemy has had to be able to operate in the border regions," Johnson said. "Normally the winters are much more severe. And quite frankly, this year has been relatively temperate. We haven't had snow in the upper elevations. "Many of the passes that would normally be blocked, just were not," said the colonel, who commands troops from the 101st Airborne Division in the country's east. But he said much of the insurgent attacks, using artillery, mortars or improvised explosives, were "ineffective" and that the militants were now targeting Afghan security forces more than US and NATO troops. The border with Pakistan was "porous" and marked by difficult terrain, while the Afghan border police were not able to provide necessary security, he said. "The effort on the border is just not where it needs to be in terms of security," Johnson said. "Right now the Afghan border police just does not have the capacity," he said. "They have not been properly resourced or manned to accomplish that mission." He said efforts were underway to recruit and train a larger border police force and that the border units would soon be equipped with heavy machine guns. In a report to Congress last month, the US Defense Department said attacks by the Taliban and other militants rose dramatically in the spring and summer of 2008. A rejuvenated Taliban was challenging the Kabul government for control of the south and east of the country and increasingly in the west, the report said. President Barack Obama has approved the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to join the 38,000-strong US force in Afghanistan and his advisors meanwhile are carrying out an elaborate review of US strategy. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank and Afghan government have completed a new "country partnership strategy" that will cover aid to the war-torn, landlocked nation from 2009 to 2013, the ADB said Friday. The strategy "retains a sharp focus on investments that will bolster the country's energy, transport, and irrigation sectors," the ADB said in a statement from its headquarters in the Philippine capital. Under the new strategy the ADB support will focus on essential infrastructure such as roads, power and irrigation facilities, ADB country director for Afghanistan Craig Steffensen said. It would include investments to expand the power grid, complete a national "ring road" and construct new roads, including links with neighbouring countries, and rehabilitation of irrigation systems, the bank said. It was not stated how much the programme would cost.

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