The Taliban are tightening their grip on Afghanistan with a permanent presence in 80% of the country.
The number of Taliban fighters has soared by 72% from this time last year, despite a massive boost in the number of Nato troops.
Research shows the Taliban – ousted in 2001 – now has a “significant presence” in the war-torn region and is growing all the time.
A new map released by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) also shows that a further 17% of Afghanistan has a “significant Taliban presence”.
Norine MacDonald QC, ICOS president, says: “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread and advance of the Taliban is without question.”
Another worrying development is the fact that the Taliban fighters are focusing their terror campaign in northern Afghanistan. This follows their devastating losses in Helmand in the south east where British soldiers have killed several thousand Taliban in clashes
The area of Kunduz, where British Para Cpl John Harrison was killed saving journalist Steve Farrell, is particularly violent. This area had until recently been relatively benign.
Alexander Jackson, policy analyst at ICOS, said: “Eight years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Taliban has returned to touch almost every corner of Afghanistan.”
There is also a danger that the Afghan government – led by Hamid Karzai – has lost its grip.
It is possible President Karzai may impose a state of emergency but this could exacerbate rather than calm the current political tensions.
Jackson added: “The Taliban has expanded its grip on Afghanistan to the point where holding another round of voting will be more difficult.
“The Afghan people who did take the risk to vote in August may not be willing to risk their lives for a second round – especially when the first round was so riddled with fraud.”