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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Afghanistan's safest province falling prey to Taliban

By Jessica Donati

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan | Tue Oct 16, 2012 5:24pm EDT

(Reuters) - Violence is returning to what has long been the most tranquil region of Afghanistan, where fears of a resurgent Taliban are as stark as the ragged holes left by the bombing of two ancient Buddha statues in cliffs facing the Bamiyan valley.

Bamiyan had been seen as the country's safest province due to its remote location in the central mountains and the opposition of the dominant local tribe, the Hazara, to the Taliban, mostly ethnic Pashtuns who massacred thousands of Hazara during their austere rule.

But now, after 11 years of a NATO-led war against the Islamists, insurgents are edging back into the province, burying roadside bombs and striking at foreign and local security forces. Five New Zealand soldiers were killed in August.

The violence in a region that was a bellwether for NATO's Afghanistan strategy underscores how rapidly security could deteriorate across the country once foreign combat soldiers leave by the end of 2014.

Local people say the insurgent stranglehold is now so tight that the province is effectively cut off by road in all directions and safely reachable only by air.

"When there are no flights out of Bamiyan, I put myself in the hands of God and travel by car," says District Governor Azim Farid, now sheltering in the capital Kabul.

Adding to the despondency is a decision earlier this year by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, to call off negotiations to rebuild the two ancient Buddha statues, destroyed by the Taliban over two weeks in 2001 because they offended religious fundamentalists. UNESCO cited funding constraints.

NATO-led coalition forces say the recent insurgent attacks in Bamiyan are a tiny fraction of overall attacks across Afghanistan, although it could represent an attempt by the Taliban to retake the initiative.

"There has been an increase, but to put it in perspective this accounts for 0.06 percent of the total enemy-initiated attacks in all of Afghanistan," a coalition spokeswoman said.

Until the attacks began to spiral in July, when nine Afghan police were killed in two bombings, Bamiyan was a NATO success story....Continue Reading... 

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