Kabul, Sept.27 : Faced with an ever more aggressive Taliban, NATO alliance troops are planning a winter "development surge" in the form of civil works projects in eastern Afghanistan.
According to the Washington Post, the plan has been designed to win over tribes in regions near the Pakistan border and to prevent the younger generation from joining the Taliban's ranks.
The paper quoted military officials here as saying that the troops will maintain their armed pressure simultaneously.
"There is no doubt the enemy has bounced back. They are not unified, and they only have support of 10 percent of the people. But they have achieved a perception of insecurity. Our challenge is to create a perception of security," said Brigadier General Mark A. Milley, deputy commander for U.S. operations under NATO in eastern Afghanistan. "Our fighting season is 365 days a year. We are not going to let them rest and reconstitute themselves," added Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokeswoman for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.
According to the paper, the projects include building a road from Khost city to a major highway to solidify local support for the Karzai government and weaken Taliban leader Haqqani's grip.
NATO and U.S. officials also claim that they have taken strong new measures to avoid civilian casualties, not only for humanitarian reasons but because reports of civilian bombing deaths are a way for insurgents to undermine Western air power that they cannot challenge militarily.
"We need to weigh the effects and the proportionality of every action. If there is the likelihood of even one civilian casualty, we will not strike, not even if we think Osama bin Laden is down there," said rigadier General Richard Blanchette, chief spokesman for the 53,000-strong NATO forces here.
NATO and U.S. military officials have said recently that they need more troops to make faster headway against a "syndicate" of Taliban insurgents, foreign al-Qaeda fighters and other enemy forces.
Western officials here also said that the major obstacles to progress on the ground are not only military. In particular, they cited the lack of strong local governance, the poor performance of the Afghan national police, and the difficulty of protecting rural areas long enough to provide projects and services that will strengthen public loyalty to the authorities.
Officials describe the overall situation as mixed.