KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban gunmen launched a brazen assault on the center of Kabul on Monday, with suicide bombers blowing themselves up at several locations and militants battling security forces from inside a shopping center engulfed in flames.
The insurgents failed in an apparent attempt to seize government buildings, but demonstrated their ability to cause mayhem at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to rally support for an expanded military mission to fight them.
The following is a snapshot of how security around Afghanistan is worsening and who is affected:
* Suicide attacks and insurgent-laid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have caused more civilian and foreign troop deaths than any other tactic since the conflict started in 2001, and insurgents have ramped up their use.
* An Afghan government security map seen by Reuters last August showed almost half of Afghanistan was at a high risk of attack by insurgents or was under “enemy control.”
* In 2003, foreign forces dealt with 81 IEDs, a figure that rose to over 7,200 for 2009, a senior NATO security intelligence official said recently.
* In 2009, 275 foreign troops were killed in IED attacks, the highest toll since the war began in 2001.
* In a security report published in September, the United Nations said “insecurity continued to be the single greatest factor impeding progress in Afghanistan.”
* According to a recent report on civilian casualties by the United Nations, there were 2,412 civilian casualties in 2009, an increase of 14 percent from 2008. The majority were inflicted by insurgents and one quarter by NATO-led and Afghan forces.
* IEDs killed 1,054 civilians in 2009. There was a 28 percent decrease from a year earlier in the number of civilians killed by NATO and Afghan forces.
* The commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, said in his assessment of the war that strategy must focus on protecting the population and prising them away from the insurgency.
* There were 75 attacks against civilians working for NGOs, charities and humanitarian groups from January to June 2009, according to the Afghan National Safety Office.
* Three journalists have been killed in Afghanistan in the past six months. Two foreigners died while embedded with NATO forces, and an Afghan was shot in a bloody rescue attempt after he was kidnapped with a UK colleague. There have also been several kidnappings.
* In January 2008, several Taliban gunmen stormed the luxury Serena hotel near the presidential palace, killing six people including a Norwegian journalist.
* Foreigners have also been targeted by gunmen in Kabul. In 2008 a British woman working for a charity and a South African man working for a courier company were shot in central Kabul.
* The worst attack on diplomats was a July 2008 suicide car bomb attack which killed 58 people, including three Indian diplomats, outside the Indian Embassy.
* On October 28 five foreign U.N. employees were killed when an international guest house where they were staying was attacked by Taliban suicide bombers.
* The southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand are the most dangerous in Afghanistan. A total of 593 troops have been killed there since U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 according to www.icasualties.org, an independent website that monitors foreign troop deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.
* Foreign and Afghan troops are also locked in daily gun battles with insurgents in the southeast of Afghanistan, close to the border with Pakistan, where 538 foreign soldiers have been killed across 13 provinces.
* Security in the north and west of Afghanistan, long considered to be safe, has deteriorated significantly over the past year and a half.
* Kunduz and Badghis, which are the only Pashtun-majority provinces in the north, have seen a significant rise in violence and Taliban attacks. Herat province in the west, Afghanistan’s commercial hub, has also seen rising violence.
* On December 20 eight CIA officials were killed in a suicide bombing in southeastern Khost province — the second-most deadly attack in the agency’s history. Media reports have said the attacker was an “al Qaeda double agent” from Jordan.
Sources: Reuters, United Nations, International Security Assistance Force, icasulaties.org, U.S. Forces. (Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)