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Al-Qaida affiliates threaten Afghanistan, region

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Al-Qaida affiliates from Pakistan and Uzbekistan are participating regularly in attacks on Afghan military forces and pose "a direct terrorist challenge" for Afghanistan, south and central Asia and the international community, U.N. experts said in a new report.

The experts monitoring sanctions against the Taliban said in a report to the U.N. Security Council, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, that Afghan and international officials believe these al-Qaida affiliated groups are unlikely to leave Afghanistan in the near future, which would keep them in the country as the U.S. withdraws most of its troops.

Fighters from several al-Qaida linked groups in Pakistan "are regularly encountered by the Afghan forces in eastern and — to a lesser extent — in southern Afghanistan," the experts said. "In northern Afghanistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan continues to gather strength among local Afghans of Uzbek origin and continues to operate in several provinces."

The al-Qaida-linked groups "therefore present a worrying, long-term security threat" spreading from Afghanistan into the region and beyond, especially for south and central Asia which have already faced terrorist violence from individuals or groups that have trained or planned attacks in Afghanistan.

The report, which was circulated on the eve of Afghanistan's presidential runoff election, said "the single greatest strategic failure for the Taliban" was its inability to disrupt the first round of presidential elections on April 5. Nonetheless, it said Taliban fighters remain a threat, developing more sophisticated explosive devices such as a suicide vest camouflaged as a leather jacket that would be practically undetectable by metal detectors.

The monitoring team painted a complex picture of the Taliban's relations with the Afghan government: continuing military stalemate, stalled reconciliation efforts, and divisions within the Taliban on the value of political engagement.

It said Afghan and international officials and observers agree that key members of the Taliban leadership "remain unpersuaded that the Afghan government security forces will continue to perform well after 2014," when the U.S. will only have an advisory force of 9,800 troops in the country to finish training and equipping Afghan security forces.

One explanation is the Taliban's view that the Afghan government will become weaker and the Taliban's position stronger, the experts said. The team noted that the past year "has been a bumper year for Taliban revenues " from the narcotics trade, corruption and extortion, and the illegal exploitation of natural resources such as onyx marble.

Afghan officials in Helmand, the major opium-producing province, estimate a $50 million yield from poppy cultivation in the harvest a month ago, with farmers expected to pay 10 percent of product as a "tax" to the Taliban, it said.

"As Taliban finances have grown, the Taliban have become more of an economic actor, with incentives to preserve this income and less potential incentive to negotiate with the government," the expert team said.

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