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UN Data: Taliban at Its Strongest in Afghanistan Since 2001

The Taliban terrorists’ reach in Afghanistan is greater than at any point since their regime was dethroned by the United States military in 2001, United Nations data obtained by The New York Times (NYT) reveals.

In September, more than half of the districts in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were reportedly rated by the UN as having either “a substantial, high or extreme level of risk… more than at any time since the American invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001.”

Overall, about half of the Afghan districts were considered to have a “high” or “extreme” threat level, which means UN workers cannot travel to or through the area, The Times reported October 11.

The UN data revealed that in September, 38 districts across 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces (about 40 percent) were considered to be under an “extreme” threat level.

“In all, 27 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces [nearly 80 percent] had some districts where the threat level was rated high or extreme,” reported The Times.

Districts under an extreme threat level have no government presence at all or the government presence is limited to the district capital.

The UN “assessment, which has not been publicly released but is routinely shared by the United Nations with countries in the international coalition, appears at odds with the assessment of its American commander, Gen. John F. Campbell, in his testimony to Congress last week,” noted The Times.

“The Afghan security forces have displayed courage and resilience,” General Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. “They’re still holding. The Afghan government retains control of Kabul, of Highway One, its provincial capitals and nearly all of the district centers.”

In many of the districts currently under siege by the Taliban, Afghan officials offered a significantly different version of the situation, reported The Times.

“The government is failing in their governing, and it’s better to let the Taliban rule,” Wali Dad, the police chief in Oruzgan province’s Charchino district in central Afghanistan where an estimate 400 police officers have been surrounded by the Taliban for months, told NYT. 

Gen. Campbell told U.S lawmakers that the Afghan security forces had “reversed almost all of the Taliban gains in northern Helmand after a considerable effort.”

“The United Nations data suggests that the tempo of the insurgency has increased in many parts of the country where there had been little Taliban presence in the past, including some areas in the north with scant Pashtun populations,” reported The Times. “The Taliban have been a largely Pashtun-based insurgency and have been historically strongest in Pashtun-majority areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan, with some pockets in the north, such as Kunduz.”

Aid groups also use the UN threat data to determine where it is safe for them to operate, noted NYT.

“The Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to data compiled by the United Nations as well as interviews with numerous local officials in areas under threat,” reported The Times.

“In addition, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [UNAMA] over the past two weeks has evacuated four of its 13 provincial offices [nearly one-third] around the country — the most it has ever done for security reasons — according to local officials in the affected areas,” added the report.

The UN data was compiled in early September, before the Taliban briefly occupied the key Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz City, sparking a surge in violence in northern Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents reconquered the city, the capital of the Afghan province of the same name that was part of the group’s former northern stronghold, in late September, and held it for about three days.

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) now claim to be largely in control of Kunduz City, the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since they lost power in 2001.

NYT reported that all four of the UN provincial evacuations in September occurred in four cities in northern Afghanistan.

“The United Nations evacuated all of its personnel and their families — both Afghan and international staff — from Kunduz as the Taliban overran that city on Sept. 28, and then a day later it evacuated its staff from Pul-i-Kumri, 60 miles to the south, in response to reports that the Taliban would attack there as well,” noted The Times.

UN workers were also evacuated from Faizabad in Badakhshan Province in the far northeast and Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province in the northwest.

Dominic Medley, a UNAMA spokesman, refused to explicitly confirm the four evacuations, noted The Times.

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