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Afghan unrest on rise, intel chief says

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress Tuesday that the insurgency in Afghanistan is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the central government's expansion of authority "than at any point since late 2001."

"Despite significant progress on the political front, the Taliban-dominated insurgency remains a capable and resilient threat," Lt. Gen. Michael Maples said in a statement presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at its annual hearing on national security threats.

Appearing with National Intelligence director John Negroponte, Maples said attacks within Afghanistan were up 20 percent from 2004 to 2005, suicide bombings increased "almost fourfold" and makeshift bombs, similar those used in Iraq, had "more than doubled."

There has been a spate of about 25 previously rare suicide bombings in the past four months.

Negroponte, in his prepared remarks, acknowledged that "the volume and geographic scope of attacks increased last year" but he added, "The Taliban and others militants have not been able to stop the democratic process" being undertaken by the central government of President Hamid Karzai.

Army Col. Kevin Owens told a ceremony in Afghanistan to mark the handover of command for southern Afghanistan to Canada that insurgents have carried out increasingly desperate attacks because Afghanistan's growing democracy has reduced their ability to "terrorize and dominate" the population.

"There will be an increase in violence this spring and we forecast an increase of violence in summer," Owens said. "Afghanistan is building state institutions, is building a civil society - that's why the enemy is resorting to the tactics that he's resorting to."

Seven militants were captured during the deadly battle Tuesday in Uruzgan province, a military statement said.

The United States has about 18,000 troops here and plans to withdraw between 2,000 and 3,000 of them later this year.

Canada has sent some 2,200 troops to the region to replace some U.S. forces.

About 3,000 British forces are arriving and 1,200 Dutch soldiers are expected later this year.

Some 1,600 people were killed last year, the most since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. The development has raised fears for this country's slow transition to democracy after a quarter century of war.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

AFGHAN PRISON RIOT

A spasm of violence broke a fragile truce at Kabul's main prison Tuesday as rioting inmates tried to push down a gate and police fired on them, killing one and wounding three, officials said. Outside the jail, women beat the ground as their children wailed, fearful that loved ones in the facility have been killed in the three-day standoff. At least five inmates have been killed and 41 wounded since the uprising began late Saturday. Police blame some 350 Taliban and al-Qaida detainees for inciting the riot at Policharki Prison. The two sides agreed to a truce late Monday, but the deal collapsed 24 hours later over a demand by the authorities that the inmates move to another wing of the lockup, said Abdul Halik, a police commander in the prison. The prisoners have made demands including a general amnesty for an unspecified number of inmates and new trials for others, according to Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, the chief government negotiator.

U.S. DEATH

Fighting between U.S. forces and suspected Taliban rebels on Tuesday killed one American service member and wounded two others in southern Afghanistan, the military said. A military vehicle was damaged by a roadside bomb during the fighting, which left the two wounded service members in stable condition at a nearby base. The victims' names were withheld pending notification of their families. The bombing raised the death toll of U.S. personnel in and around Afghanistan to 216 since the U.S. invaded in late 2001.

- ASSOCIATED PRESS

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