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Afghan famine poses greater risk than Taliban

Around 8.5 million Afghans face food shortages

A looming famine in Afghanistan poses a greater threat to international efforts to rebuild the country than the ongoing insurgency there, a leading defense think-tank warned Friday.

According to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a combination of factors -- from rising global food prices to a summer drought -- have created the conditions for a famine in Afghanistan this winter.

"While the eyes of the world have focused on violence which is increasingly terrorist in character, an estimated 8.4 million Afghans, perhaps a third of the nation, are now suffering from 'chronic food insecurity'," RUSI analyst Paul Smyth said in a briefing note.

"Whatever the effect of insurgent violence on the U.N.-mandated mission in Afghanistan, it is widespread hunger and malnutrition that will place a greater obstacle in its progress."

He continued: "To maintain its credibility and moral authority to act in Afghanistan the international community must take timely, concerted and effective action."

British charity Oxfam warned earlier this year that around five million Afghans face food shortages, and the U.N.'s special representative in Afghanistan has appealed to insurgent leaders to allow aid workers to distribute food ahead of winter.

Since the Taliban were ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, they have been waging a bloody insurgency against the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there.

Smyth noted that "for all the focus on insurgency, a more serious blow will be dealt to the Afghan government and the U.N./ISAF mission if the international community does not prevent a predictable humanitarian disaster."