The security situation in Afghanistan is worse than previously acknowledged according to a secret map produced by the Afghan government. The classified map shows that half of Afghanistan is at a high risk of attack by the Taliban or is under enemy control.
The map bears the logos of Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry and the army as well as the United Nations Department of Safety and Security. It reveals that virtually the entire south of the country is under extreme risk of attack. The area where the Taliban has the upper hand runs from Farah in the west through Helmand province in the south, and east towards provinces such as Paktia and Nangarhar near the Pakistan border. The map also shows at-risk areas on three sides of the capital, Kabul.
Previously NATO and the Afghan government maintained that the Taliban’s reach was limited to their traditional strongholds in the south and east. But their spread to the west and north comes as no surprise to the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). At the end of 2008 ICOS drew up a similar map which showed that the Taliban held a significant presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, a dramatic increase on the previous year. ICOS Director of Policy Research, Jorrit Kamminga says:
“At least it is now in the open. This map comes from the Afghan government themselves. So they really cannot simply deny it again as they did with our map that we released in 2007 and 2008. At least we’re talking about a real scenario, that people know what’s going on and people know what the risks are. And we’ve seen it with the increasing number of military casualties in the south, that we’re in for the long haul and it is going to be a very difficult struggle.”
Voter turnout threatened
The map entitled ANSF Provincial/District Threat Assessment, 23 April 2009, provides some of the first concrete evidence of poor security that may threaten voter turnout in Afghanistan’s southern Pashtun belt in this month’s elections. A poor turnout in the south could threaten President Hamid Karzai’s chances of re-election and force a second round run-off if he fails to secure 50 percent of the vote. If that were to happen, it could leave the door open for one of his challengers to succeed. Jorrit Kaminga says:
“I think there will be quite an exciting election because we will definitely see some of the other candidates probably being able to at least be a good candidate against him, to create some competition which of course is very healthy.”
Afghanistan’s presidential election is on August 20th.
Listen to interview with Jorrit Kamminga, Director of Policy Research ICOS