’07 bloodiest yet in Afghanistan

The year also set a record for production of opium, but U.S. officials say they see progress.
 Associated Press
 Published January 1, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. military deaths, suicide bombings and opium production hit record highs in 2007. Taliban militants killed more than 925 Afghan police, and large swaths of the country remain outside government control.

But U.S. officials here insist things are looking up: The Afghan army is assuming a larger combat role, and militants appear unlikely to mount a major spring offensive, as had been feared a year ago. Training for Afghan police is increasing.

Still, six years after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, violence persists in much of southern Afghanistan where the government has little presence, and recent militant attacks in Pakistan highlight a long-term regional problem with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Civilian deaths caused by U.S. and NATO forces in the first half of the year rattled the government, and more foreign fighters flowed into the country.

Taliban fighters avoided head-on battles with U.S., NATO and Afghan army forces in 2007, resorting instead to ambushes and suicide bombings, but militants attacked the weakest of Afghan forces to devastating effect. More than 925 Afghan police died in Taliban ambushes in 2007.

Afghanistan in 2007 saw record violence that killed more than 6,500 people, including 110 U.S. troops – the highest level ever in Afghanistan – and almost 4,500 militants, according to an Associated Press count. Britain lost 41 soldiers, while Canada lost 30. Other nations lost a total of 40.

Taliban suicide bombers set off a record number of attacks this year – more than 140.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, promised an increase in suicide attacks, ambushes and roadside bombs against U.S. and NATO forces in 2008.

"We will gain more sympathies of the Afghan people because the people are upset with this government because this government has failed," he said.

The fight against poppies failed: Afghanistan this year produced 93 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin.

Despite those developments, Mark Stroh, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said Afghanistan’s progress in security, governance and development was promising.

"Last year at this time, there was grave concern that the Taliban were going to overrun large parts of the country. That clearly has not been the case," Stroh said.