Secret UN maps show Afghan security worsening

Monday, December 27, 2010

WASHINGTON - The Afghan security situation has deteriorated this year, secret UN maps have revealed, countering the US government’s assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American troops began a year ago, a media report said.

The Wall Street Journal said it has accessed two confidential “residual risk accessibility” maps, one compiled by the UN at the annual fighting season’s start in March 2010 and another at its tail end in October.

The maps, used by UN personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programmes, divide the country’s districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.

In the October map, just as in March’s, virtually all of southern Afghanistan - the focus of the coalition’s military offensives - remained painted the red of “very high risk”, with no noted security improvements.

At the same time, the green belt of “low risk” districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shrivelled considerably.

The UN’s October map upgraded to “high risk” 16 previously more secure districts in Badghis, Sar-e-Pul, Balkh, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Laghman and Takhar provinces; only two previously “high risk” districts, one in Kunduz and one in Herat province, received a safer rating.

A Pentagon report mandated by Congress drew similar conclusions when it was released last month. It said attacks were up 70 percent since 2009 and threefold since 2007.

The daily said, as a result of the continued violence, the Taliban still threaten the Afghan government, according to the report.

The director of communications for the UN in Afghanistan, Kieran Dwyer, said he couldn’t comment on classified maps. But, he said, “in the course of 2010, the security situation in many parts of the country has become unstable where it previously had not been so.”

“There is violence happening in more parts of the country, and this is making the delivery of humanitarian services more difficult for the UN and other organizations. But we are continuing to deliver.”

The assessments of the UN accessibility maps, based on factors such as insurgent activity, political stability, coalition operations and community acceptance, contrast with US President Barack Obama’s recent statements that hail the coalition’s progress in the war.

“Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future,” Obama told American troops during a visit to the Bagram Air Field northeast of Kabul earlier this month.

Most of the 30,000 US additional troops deployed this year were sent to the Taliban heartland in the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where they have been able to capture key insurgent strongholds.

Though no longer under uncontested Taliban control, most of these areas remain a war zone, with frequent ambushes, shootings and bombings.

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