Afghanistan conflict: Reports paint bleak picture

Taliban fighters man a checkpoint in Nangarhar province The ICRC said an increasing number of armed groups were making life tough for ordinary Afghans

Two new assessments are painting a bleak picture of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the day before the White House unveils its review of strategy.

The Red Cross found armed groups were making life more difficult for Afghans.

And US intelligence assessments reported by the New York Times suggest there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents.

President Obama is expected to say the US plan to begin withdrawing in 2011 remains on track, aides have said.

American military commanders and senior Pentagon officials have already criticised the US National Intelligence Estimates assessments as out of date.

The bleak reports came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai told Afghans that Nato should transfer full responsibility for all the country's affairs, including security, to Afghans by the end of 2014.

In a live television address, he criticised his own administration for failing to tackle corruption, but highlighted international involvement in security firms, prisons and in delivering foreign aid as areas of particular concern.

"The bigger corruption is the corruption of the international community in Afghanistan and this can be addressed only through two ways.

"First, through their cordial, sincere and true co-operation and by allowing Afghans to manage their own affairs, so that they assume full responsibility for their country and their activities."

Treatment delayed

In a rare public assessment of the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan, the International Committee for the Red Cross said growing civilian casualties, internal displacement and poor medical care have created a dire humanitarian situation and are likely to persist into next year.

The group said the conflict has entered a "new, rather murky phase" in which proliferating armed factions impede humanitarian efforts, including providing medical care, food and clean drinking water to the growing number of refugees.

"One armed group may demand food and shelter in the evening, then, the next morning, another may demand to know why its enemy was given sanctuary," Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The group said a hospital in Kandahar had admitted 2,650 wounded patients in 2010, a 26% increase over 2009. It cited reports of threats against local medical staff and patients prevented or delayed from obtaining medical care.

The International Red Cross said the emerging armed groups include criminal gangs and are often difficult to identify. Civilians are increasingly caught in the middle of the armed conflicts and are forced to flee, it said.

Another report, from the London-based think tank Chatham House, said failings in Afghanistan's justice system were fuelling the insurgency. Corruption, inequalities and a lack of accountability were driving people away from supporting the state and into joining or supporting the Taliban.

Likewise, a failure to provide justice had created a vacuum which the Taliban were rushing to fill, helping spread their influence beyond the group's traditional southern heartland.

'Pakistan safe havens'

Separately, in assessments reported by the New York Times, US intelligence officials said Pakistan's unwillingness to crack down on militant groups operating in the lawless borderlands had created a major obstacle to progress in Afghanistan.

The National Intelligence Estimates as cited by the newspaper - one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan - say insurgent groups plant bombs and carry out attacks in Afghanistan, then retreat unhindered over the border to Pakistan to rest and rearm.

But a senior defence official quoted by the newspaper criticised the studies' authors and their conclusions, saying they were not "living it day in and day out like our forces are, so they don't have the proximity and perspective".

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama is expected to announced the findings of a report by his national security staff on progress in Afghanistan.

White House aides have suggested the report will contain few surprises and will support the president's intention to begin turning over security duties to Afghan forces in July 2011.

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