The Guardian Afghanistan 'falling into Taliban hands' Richard Norton-Taylor Wednesday November 21, 2007 The Taliban has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan and the country is in serious danger of falling into the group's hands, according to a report by an independent thinktank with long experience in the area. Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid, the insurgents, driven out by the US invasion in 2001, now control "vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries," the Senlis Council says in a report released today. On the basis of what it calls exclusive research, it warns that the insurgency is also exercising a "significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people, who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change". It says that the frontline is getting ever closer to Kabul - a warning echoed by the UN, which says more and more of the country is becoming a "no go" area for western aid and development workers. The council goes as far as to state: "It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen and in what form. The oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a new strategic paradigm for Afghanistan before time runs out". Its 110-page report coincides with an equally severe warning from Oxfam. In a report for the House of Commons international development committee, the humanitarian and aid agency warns that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating significantly with the country's problems exacerbated by corruption in central and local government. The report warns that urgent action is needed to avert a humanitarian disaster in which millions of Afghans face "severe hardship comparable with sub-Saharan Africa". Though the country has received more than $15bn in aid since 2001, the money is not getting to the people who need it most or to projects that could lead to sustained improvements in their lives, Oxfam says. At least 1,200 civilians have been killed so far this year, it adds - half in operations by international or Afghan forces. There are four times as many air strikes by international forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq, Oxfam notes. Senior British and US military commanders privately agree despite their public emphasis on short-term successes against Taliban fighters. The insurgency is divided into a largely poverty-driven "grassroots" component and a concentrated group of "hardcore militant Islamists", says the Senlis Council, which has an office in Kabul and field researchers based in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan. It says that the Nato-led International Security Force, Isaf, should have double the current number of 40,000 troops and should include forces from Muslim countries as well as those Nato states which have refused to send troops to the country or insist, like France and Germany, that they must not be involved in combat operations. There is no sign, despite pressure from the US and Britain, of any move within Nato to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. While western governments, like the Senlis Council and Oxfam, are increasingly concerned about the lack of effectiveness of President Hamid Karzai's government, there is no agreement about how to solve the problems. While the Senlis Council wants Nato forces' provincial reconstruction teams to take on a bigger role distributing aid, Oxfam says the military should stick to providing security. And while the council says opium poppies should be bought by the international community and used licitly for medical purposes, Oxfam argues that such a project would be impossible given the current state of Afghanistan.