Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Six years after invasion, Taliban is on the rise

KABUL — In the better times that followed the U.S.-led invasion, Kabul's famous Chicken Street used to attract hundreds of foreigners seeking a bargain on Afghan rugs, leather goods and gemstones such as lapis lazuli.

These days, the Westerners have all but disappeared from the downtown thoroughfare in Afghanistan's capital. At shops such as the one owned by Mohammed Hasef, a 36-year-old rug salesman, security fears have become so intense that he even shoos away beggars out of fear they could be wearing suicide vests.

"All of us shopkeepers have to keep an eye out," Hasef says. He hasn't sold a rug in two months.

Such worries have proliferated among Afghans and Westerners alike since the Taliban's audacious Jan. 14 attack on Kabul's five-star Serena Hotel. The assault on one of the city's best-protected landmarks was the latest — and most dramatic — sign that the Taliban may be gaining strength more than six years after U.S.-led forces invaded to drive the Islamist militant movement from power.

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