Afghan violence upswing seasonal: MacKay
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, July 8, 2008 4:06PM EDT
HALIFAX - Defence Minister Peter MacKay dismissed the idea that the Taliban is launching a new offensive in Afghanistan, saying Tuesday the mounting death toll and surge in violence are linked to the end of the annual poppy harvest.
MacKay said suicide attacks that have seen more than 40 people killed in recent days and the death Sunday of another Canadian soldier are likely tied to the conclusion of the lucrative trade that funds Taliban activities.
"The so-called spring offensive very often does lead to an uptick in insurgency attacks,'' he said Tuesday after a funding announcement in Halifax.
"This effort by the Taliban coincides with the end of the poppy harvest so there are more young individuals subject to being bought and paid for by the Taliban to involve themselves in the insurgency.''
MacKay said he spoke with Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk two days ago and was told the violence over the last week is what was expected from the Taliban.
He restated the military's frustration with insurgents' efforts to recruit people at the Pakistan border, where he said the Taliban has raided refugee camps to boost its ranks.
"Let's be very honest, there is still an enormous challenge at the Pakistan border,'' he said. "This is a tough insurgency, there's no question that there are challenges that remain.''
On the weekend, Natynczyk said there is an ebb and flow to the violence, and he downplayed a U.S. report that claimed the Taliban was making a comeback.
"There's highs and lows and we're in that period of campaign season where we knew there was going to be additional activity,'' he said.
The assertion that the upswing in activity is "seasonal'' comes just days after a bloody suicide attack in Kabul, where 40 people died in a bombing at the Indian Embassy, marking the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
A Canadian military medic was also killed on the weekend by a roadside bomb, as were three police officers following the assassination of a local member of parliament.
Pte. Colin William Wilmot became the 87th Canadian soldier killed during the Afghan mission when an improvised explosive device detonated during a foot patrol just after midnight Sunday.
Suicide bombings, once an unknown concept in Afghanistan, have increased exponentially: from zero in 2002, to two in 2003, three in 2004, 17 in 2005, 123 in 2006, and 160 last year.
June was the deadliest month for coalition troops since they entered Afghanistan in October 2001 to oust the Taliban, just weeks after the 9-11 attacks in the United States.
Coalition deaths have increased steadily since 2004 with 58 soldiers killed that year. The total more than doubled to 130 killed in 2005, 191 in 2006, and 232 in 2007. One hundred twenty-seven have died so far this year.
MacKay said the grim statistics don't tell the whole story of Afghanistan, which has seen its per capita income double across the country since 2002, while more than 80 per cent of Afghans now have access to basic health care, compared with only nine per cent in 2004.