By JASON STRAZIUSO
The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has risen fourfold this year, and militants now launch more than 600 attacks a month, a rising wave of violence that has resulted in 3,700 deaths in 2006, a bleak new report released Sunday found.
In the volatile border area near Pakistan, more than 20 Taliban militants -- and possibly as many as 60 -- were killed during several days of clashes, officials said Sunday.
The new report said insurgents were launching more than 600 attacks a month as of the end of September, up from 300 a month at the end of March this year. The violence has killed more than 3,700 people this year, it said.
Afghanistan saw about 130 insurgent attacks a month last year, said the report by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, a body of Afghan and international officials charged with overseeing the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact, a five-year reconstruction and development blueprint signed in February.
The violence "threatens to reverse some of the gains made in the recent past, with development activities being especially hard hit in several areas, resulting in partial or total withdrawal of international agencies in a number of the worst-affected provinces."
The report said that the rising drug trade in Afghanistan is fueling the insurgency in four volatile southern provinces. The slow pace of development is contributing to popular disaffection and ineffective implementation of the drug fight, it said.
Afghanistan's poppy crop, which is used to make heroin, increased by 59 percent in Afghanistan this past year.
Insurgents have launched a record number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks this year, and there have been clashes all year between insurgents and Afghan and NATO security forces, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces near the border with Pakistan.
The 3,700 deaths the report attributes to insurgent-related violence is comparable to the number of deaths -- about 3,500 -- tallied by The Associated Press this year based on reports from the U.S. military, NATO and Afghan officials.
In the east, Gen. Murad Ali, the deputy Afghan army commander for Paktika province, said 20 bodies were recovered from fighting in Bermel district in the last several days. In addition, he said, two trucks carrying Taliban fighters were destroyed by airstrikes or artillery fire, and officials estimated 40 fighters were killed in those strikes.
Four NATO soldiers and three Afghan soldiers were injured, he said, though a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force said he was not aware of any serious injuries among NATO troops.
Maj. Luke Knittig said the operations in Bermel, which borders Pakistan, were part of an ongoing Afghan-NATO mission to root out Taliban militants before winter.
"We know we've engaged in successful operations in Bermel with a purpose, and we think those have had a very positive effect against insurgent activity there," Knittig said.
Knittig said Ali's estimate of 60 dead fighters "sounds about right to me," but he did not have an independent estimate of the number killed. "We are not into the numbers game here lately," he said.
Death tolls in remote areas of Afghanistan are almost impossible to verify and often vary widely.
Abdul Baqi Nuristani, the provincial police chief, said only 25 militants have been killed in Bermel the last couple days. He said three Afghan and three NATO soldiers were injured in what he called "a very big battle."
Ali said tribal elders took the bodies of eight Pakistani fighters back over the border to be buried.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to prevent Pakistani or other foreign fighters from crossing the border to launch attacks. Pakistan says it does all it can, though border attacks have increased since a September agreement led the Pakistani military to pull out of its lawless tribal region.
Bermel is home to a military base that hosts both Afghan and U.S. soldiers. NATO-led troops aided by military aircraft killed 15 suspected insurgents in the district on Tuesday after troops on patrol came under attack.