KANDAHAR — Claims by an international think-tank that the Taliban is growing in power and influence in Afghanistan drew instant condemnation Monday from Canada's ambassador to the war-torn country.
The findings by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as the Senlis Council, said the Taliban now has a permanent presence in 72 per cent of the country compared with 54 per cent a year ago.
It defined permanent presence as being the site of at least one insurgent attack each week.
"There's a real irony here,'' said Ron Hoffmann, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan.
"On one hand, the report points to the effectiveness of the Taliban propaganda efforts. But I have to say that whenever a Senlis report comes out, it must be a red letter day for the Taliban propaganda machine.''
The ICOS said "the West is in genuine danger of losing Afghanistan'' and that the Taliban is gaining support because of poppy eradication, continued poverty and civilian casualties.
It recommends a doubling of NATO forces and more aid programs along, with greater efforts by the West to cut down on civilian casualties in the fighting.
"The notion that 72 per cent of the country now has a permanent Taliban presence, I think is just fundamentally inaccurate,'' Hoffmann said.
"We're quite confident, and the government of Afghanistan is quite confident, that the Taliban presence is a sporadic one and still largely restricted to the south and significantly less than 50 per cent of the country.''
Hoffmann said the findings of the report are predictable and based on "dubious analysis and flimsy research'' coming from an agenda he doesn't fully understand.
Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of Task Force Kandahar, also disputed claims about the Taliban's influence.
Thompson argues that attacks by the Taliban do not indicate any kind of control and that the insurgents enjoy the support of only 20 per cent of the Afghan people at most.
Is anybody winning over there?