Afghanistan: Weakened by war and frustration

KABUL, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s plane swept over the Afghan mountains Wednesday, she flew over a country alarmed by deepening Taliban violence and frustrated by a lack of progress.

Her trip is partly a show of support for the "extraordinary" President Hamid Karzai, whose standing has taken a battering with thousands of Afghan and international troops unable to rein in the Taliban after five years of trying.

The capital is meanwhile still shaken by a deadly riot a month ago that was the worst violence in the city since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and exposed deep annoyance that little has improved since the hardliners fled.

The Taliban — joined by Arab Al-Qaeda militants and Afghan Islamists opposed to Karzai’s government — were more organised than ever when they launched their traditional "spring offensive" around March.

Afghan and foreign military officials have admitted the militants have been able to mount larger, more organised strikes against them.

All the while the rebels have kept up a relentless campaign of suicide attacks and bomb blasts that occur more regularly outside the southern and eastern regions bordering Pakistan that suffer the brunt of the bloodshed.

US-led coalition and Afghan forces in mid-May launched Operation Mountain Thrust in the south, their biggest operation since the Taliban were toppled and bringing together 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, Britain, Canada, the United States and other allies.