updated 2/28/2006 11:33:45 AM ET 2006-02-28T16:33:45

Painting a bleak picture of U.S. military operations overseas, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress on Tuesday that violence in Afghanistan increased 20 percent last year.

“We judge insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001 (when U.S. forces invaded), and will be active this spring,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the DIA chief.

Maples said sectarian violence in Iraq, which has been increasing, was harder to quantify, but is based on a core of Sunni Arab insurgents who can exploit “social, economic, historical and religious grievances.”

“Networks based on these relationships remain the greatest threat to long-term stability in Iraq,” Maples said.

In his written testimony, Maples said Afghan insurgents increased their suicide attacks almost fourfold and more than doubled their use of improvised explosive devices. Both techniques have been used frequently in Iraq.

He also said that Sunni Arab leaders hold no influence over foreign fighters operating in Iraq, including terrorists working for the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Maples said DIA believes local dissatisfaction with foreign fighters in Iraq appears to have grown, yet he said that tension has not hurt the insurgency’s strength.

Maples testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

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