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Insurgent attacks soar amid surge -

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PETER CAVE: The man in charge of the US military strategy in Afghanistan has given a gloomy
assessment of security there.

General David Petraeus says that violent attacks are at their highest point since the coalition's
forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 and he says there are difficult times ahead.

Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: President Barack Obama is sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in an effort
to finally put down the persistent Taliban insurgency there.

But just as the troops arrive, there's been a big surge in the number of violent attacks - 1450 to
be exact - just in the month of May, according to a report by NATO's International Security
Assistance Force.

Last week insurgent attacks reached their highest level since 2001 when coalition forces toppled
the Taliban regime.

The number of violent attacks has soared 59 per cent in the first five months of this year compared
to the same period last year.

And the head of US Central Command, the man in charge of military strategy in Afghanistan, General
David Petraeus has told a forum in Washington that the outlook for violence is grim.

DAVID PETRAEUS: There is no question but that the situation has deteriorated over the course of the
past two years in particular and that there are difficult times ahead.

ASHLEY HALL: Military officials say the increase in activity is at least partly attributable to the
relatively mild winter, which has made it easier for insurgents to enter Afghanistan from Pakistan.

But NATO says the rising violence has also been driven by an increase in coalition military
activity this year. In Southern Afghanistan where Australian efforts are focussed there's been a 78
per cent jump in attacks so far these year. That's where most of the fresh US troops are headed, to
press into areas that have previously been viewed as Taliban and Al Qaeda safe havens.

General Petraeus warns that that campaign could produce many more US casualties.

The Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak says the effort will be worth it. He's told a
two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers in Belgium the surge of troops will help the Afghan
Government gain control of the country once and for all.

RAHIM WARDAK: You see, I have always said that the only sustainable way to secure Afghanistan is to
enable the Afghans themselves. So whatever forces come there it will be for a transitional period
until the Afghans stand on their own feet. And I think we are well on the way to that target.

If the new US strategy is fully implemented I think we will have in the near future the capability
to defend the country ourselves, as we have done it for thousands of years.

ASHLEY HALL: There was some speculation that the NATO defence ministers would agree to send to
Afghanistan the 5,000 troops they're planning to pull out of Kosovo because security is improving

But there's been no such commitment yet. Italy has already increased its troop commitment to
Afghanistan by about 600 this year. Italy's Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa is optimistic the
increased presence will make a difference.

IGNAZIO LA RUSSA (translated): This is an increasingly dangerous period, and this is due to several
concomitant - although apparently different - reasons. The upcoming Afghan elections make the
insurgency more aggressive in its attempt to destabilise the country. On the other hand, the Afghan
army, supported by the international forces, is managing to re-occupy territories where the
insurgency was previously unchallenged.

ASHLEY HALL: General Petraeus carries the weight of high expectation on his mission to bring peace
to Afghanistan. He won much credit for his counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq.

But this time, he's also facing a tight time line. The NATO ministers have indicated they're
wanting to see progress from the troop surge in Afghanistan within the next 12 to 18 months.

PETER CAVE: Ashley Hall reporting.