On day seven of an offensive by NATO and local troops in southern Afghanistan, Taliban forces continue to put up stiff resistance.
NATO commanders now admit it may take up to a month to fully secure the Marjah and Nad Ali areas, a main Taliban stronghold.
Yesterday four NATO troops were killed, bringing the alliance’s death toll to nine since the assault began. The operation involves Afghan, British and US troops.
The stakes are high, and a victory here for NATO would be a major blow to the Taliban.
Luc De Vos, an expert at the Belgian Royal Military Academy, said: “If their essential stronghold is taken, they’ll have to go elsewhere and reorganise themselves, and this will take time. I think this plays an important role, and obviously there is also the problem of the opium, which is also produced in this region.”
The Taliban always officially banned opium cultivation, but it is reported they have been using it to finance their military operations. They are also likely to be receiving large amounts of money from outside Afghanistan.
Luc De Vos said: “There are some people in the Arab world who hand over money because they think it’s the right thing to do, or because they’re scared of certain reactions. They pay to continue to have a normal life. So, there’s a form of racketeering going on.”
The US is voicing optimism that the offensive, thought to be the biggest in the eight-year war, is going to bring results. But there is a warning that achieving permanent change will be far more complicated.
Luc De Vos said: “At the end of the day it’s a fight for the heart of the people, who have to choose between two systems. Neither one is perfect – that’s the least we can say. But they have to choose the less bad one, and indirectly the less bad one for us, because we have to avoid Afghanistan becoming a sanctuary again.”
NATO is also having to make sure that it targets only Taliban fighters, and that civilians are not caught up in the violence.