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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taliban Are Resurfacing in Chaotic Afghanistan

WARDAK, Afghanistan -- Two months after a gun attack, the bullet holes in the Datsun sedan have been patched and it runs beautifully. But water engineer Asil Kahn walks with a limp and he still has two bullets in his body.

The vehicle's humanitarian logo made him a victim in the battle for Afghanistan's future, where water engineers, mine-clearers and humanitarian workers -- people the country needs most -- are prime targets for militants trying to destabilize President Hamid Karzai's interim government.

"They weren't robbers or thieves," said Kahn, 46. "They just wanted to kill us. They're people against the government. They thought that maybe there would be some foreigners or some officials from aid organizations in the car. That's why they shot us."

With the slow buildup of a national Afghan army, an inadequate U.S. and coalition presence and poor progress on reconstruction projects, Afghanistan is spiraling out of control and risks becoming a "narco-mafia" state, some humanitarian agencies warn.

If the country slips into anarchy, it risks becoming a haven for resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. And the point of U.S. military action here could be lost -- a major setback in the war against terrorism.

The security vacuum outside Kabul has emboldened Taliban fighters, who constitute the bulk of anti-government militants. U.S. officials say the Taliban controls part of the opium business, a rich source of funds to attract fighters.

About 40 percent of the $5.2 billion pledged by the international community last year has been spent but with little progress on big reconstruction projects like the Kabul to Kandahar road. Much of the money has gone to emergency relief: food, medicine, blankets and tents.

Haji Abdul Khaliq, 54, arrived in Kabul exhausted by 14 hours on the shattering, rocky track of a highway from Kandahar. It was inconceivable to him that $2 billion had been spent in his country since January last year.

"From what we can see, they didn't spend more than a dollar," he said. "There are no paved roads, no reconstruction of government buildings, no help for the people and no government salaries."

Khaliq said Taliban forces in the region were growing bolder. A June 30 explosion at a Kandahar mosque that injured more than a dozen was apparently aimed at the anti-Taliban mullah there. A day later another anti-Taliban mullah was shot dead 10 kilometers south. Anti-government militants in recent months have killed aid workers, attacked mine-clearers and burned girls' schools. In June, a suicide bomb attack in Kabul killed four German soldiers.

The Taliban rebels offer local people good salaries -- more than $100 a month -- to fight, while Khaliq grumbled that he and his men are not being paid at all. Afghanistan's severe budgetary problems leave many civil servants unpaid.

U.S. forces are focused on eradicating remnants of the Taliban. But to many Afghans, a more immediate problem is bandits, often associated with the venal commanders and warlords who control the roads. A surge in trade by small businessmen after the Taliban's fall is being slowly strangled by extortion and banditry.