The war in Afghanistan is "only just beginning", according to a report published this week by the international body established to oversee the work of non-governmental aid agencies in the country.

In contrast to Western claims that progress is being made, the Afghanistan NGO Security Office (Anso) says: "The consensus among informed individuals at the end of 2007 seems to be that Afghanistan is at the beginning of a war, not the end of one: 2007 will likely be looked back upon as the year in which the Taliban seriously rejoined the fight. With the Taliban resurgent, it has become obvious that their easy departure in 2001 after the US-led invasion was more of a strategic retreat than an actual military defeat," the report adds.

Taliban insurgents, fighting to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign forces, carried out more attacks over a wider area in 2007, Anso claims, and the best-case scenario for this year, is "more of the same".

The Taliban are most active in their traditional heartlands in the south and east of the country, but have extended attacks to the other areas.

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Forces (Isaf) has some 41,000 troops in Afghanistan, including more than 7000 UK soldiers.

But due to restrictions on how and where most European troops are deployed and excluding the necessary support troops, Isaf cannot field more than 5000 to 7000 combat soldiers, Anso estimates.

The US announced last week that it plans to deploy 3200 Marines - 2000 of them in the British and Canadian sectors of Helmand and Kandahar - to forestall an expected Taliban spring offensive.

Western politicians and Nato commanders say they are making progress, claiming to have pre-empted an insurgent spring offensive last year and are building up Afghan security forces.

"We totally disagree with those who assert that the spring offensive' did not happen and would instead argue that a four-fold increase in armed opposition group initiated attacks between February to July constitutes a very clear-cut offensive," Anso said.

In the absence of a huge increase in military commitment, the best-case scenario for 2008 was "more of the same", with Taliban insurgents expanding their influence in the countryside and aid groups being forced to retreat into the safety of the cities.

More than 6000 people were killed in 2007 in the bloodiest year since 2001.