KABUL, Afghanistan — Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.
Large parts of the country that were once completely safe, like most of the northern provinces, now have a substantial Taliban presence. As NATO forces poured in and shifted to the south to battle the Taliban in its stronghold, the Taliban responded with a surge of its own, greatly increasing activities in the north and parts of the east.
The worsening security comes as the Obama administration is under increasing pressure to show results to maintain public support for the war, and raises serious concerns about whether the country will be able to hold legitimate nationwide elections Saturday for parliament.
Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country's 368 districts, according to published U.N. estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country's 34 provinces.
The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan NGO Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.
The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, does not routinely release detailed data on attacks around the country, and the Afghan government stopped doing so in mid 2009. U.N. officials have also stopped releasing details of attacks, though they monitor them closely. Requests for access to that information were denied.
ISAF officials dispute the notion that security is slipping from them, pointing to their successes with targeted killings and captures of Taliban field commanders and members of the Taliban shadow government.
American military officials blame the rise in the number of its forces here for the increased level of violence.
The last 2,000 of 30,000 new American troops are expected to arrive in the next week or two, military officials say. The result is more military operations, they say, and more opportunities for the insurgents to attack coalition forces.
That does not entirely explain the increased activity of the Taliban in areas where it was seldom seen before, and where the coalition presence is light, however.
The Afghan NGO Safety Office says that by almost every metric it has, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001.
Military officials counter that they are making headway against the Taliban. Gen. David Petraeus, the ISAF commander, said recently that NATO forces had killed or captured 2,974 insurgents this summer, 235 of them commanders.
Last December, the military assessed Taliban strength at 25,000.
The most recent troop buildup comes in response to steady advances by the Taliban. Four years ago, the insurgents were active in only four provinces. Now they are active in 33 of 34, the organizations say.
"We do not support the perspective that this constitutes 'things getting worse before they get better,' " said Nic Lee, director of the Afghan NGO Safety Office, "but rather see it as being consistent with the five-year trend of things just getting worse."
Despite the spread of the conflict, humanitarian organizations say they are still able to serve Afghans in much of the country. They have to be much more careful, restricting their movements and pulling back from some areas altogether. They use Afghan workers rather than international staff members. They avoid travel by road and take greater security precautions. They have also taken to operating incognito as a matter of routine.
As a result, while insurgent attacks have more than doubled since last year, attacks on NGOs have actually declined by 35 percent, Lee said.