AFGHANISTAN risks sliding back into chaos if western countries do not step up efforts to bolster government control outside the capital, Ronald Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan, said February 02.
"If one does not want Afghanistan to return to fragmentation, then the task is to build the government. This is a rather audacious task, and there is really no margin between fairly hefty success and very disastrous failure," Mr Neumann told the Financial Times in an interview.
Speaking after a conference in London where nations pledged $10.5bn (euro8.7bn, £5.9bn) to rebuild the country over the next five years, Mr Neumann said the task was far from over. "The price of not carrying through and giving it up is a very large failure that will return Afghanistan to a very chaotic existence. People need to think about that when they are wincing at the task."
Mr Neumann's comments came hours before a suicide bomber rammed
a car packed with explosives into an army convoy in south-eastern Khost province, killing three Afghan soldiers and a roadworker in the latest of a spate of suicide attacks.
US casualties in Afghanistan almost doubled to about 60 in 2005 compared with the previous year, as the Taliban began aping the suicide and roadside bombings of Iraq.
Mr Neumann admitted the Taliban was not a spent force but rejected comparisons with Iraq, saying violence had not derailed elections or halted reconstruction. "It is clear the Taliban has not gone away and I would expect that we will have a violent insurgency in the south for some years to come. But I think there is a huge exaggeration of their strength."
Nato, which will send more troops to southern Afghanistan in the spring when the US reduces its presence, must take the initiative and provide a security buffer behind which the Afghan army and government could build strength. "We can't leave it in Taliban hands. They are just playing a long game, keeping the government weak and waiting for the day when the foreigners walk away and they can move back," Mr Neumann said.
The Taliban had failed to derail the government or stop reconstruction.
US-funded work to provide alternative livelihoods for opium farmers in southern Helmand province had resumed after an attack on aid workers halted the programme last year, and progress was being made on road-building in the south, he added.
When Nato forces took over from the US, Mr Neumann said he did not "see any reason why security in the south should not be as good or better" than in 2005.