Taliban Use Guerrilla Tactics In Helmand Province
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Now and again, during this long, hot summer, we're reminded that U.S. troops are busy fighting two wars.
INSKEEP: The war in Iraq seems to be winding down - or maybe not. Weeks after they said they'd leave city streets, U.S. forces are still seen there, and we'll hear their explanation in a moment.
MONTAGNE: We start with the war that's definitely escalating. Two U.S. Marines were killed over the weekend in southern Afghanistan, as were a number of soldiers from Britain, which has now lost more troops in Afghanistan than it has in Iraq. Taliban fighters in that southern province of Helmand are using hit and run tactics as a national election nears.
For the latest in Afghanistan, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us from Kabul. Hello, thanks for joining us.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning Renee.
MONTAGNE: What can you tell us about the efforts to stabilize the Southern part of the country? Where are we at it on this Monday morning?
NELSON: Well, we are two weeks into an operation that the Marines launched in order to clear the Taliban from their stronghold in Helmand province, and they've been pushing further south in recent days, and there's also been more push backs in the Taliban in recent days. Two Marines were killed in the South. We don't know exactly where, but it's pretty safe to assume that this was in Helmand province, and - in some sort of bomb blast, which again, the authorities are not providing a lot of details on. But it is getting more hectic and more violent down there.
And the idea that the Marines have, is that they would have like to not only clear this area of Taliban, but actually stay there and hold it, which is something that's the Western troops have not done much of in the past. And they're actually building a lot of bases, forward outposts and operating bases down there, to try and make that happen, so that they can bring development, and the like, as well.
MONTAGNE: Can we expect the Taliban to continue with these hit and run tactics against the U.S. and its allies, or might it change in some way as time goes on?
NELSON: I think we can expect that to continue. They're not believed to have the number of people - and they certainly don't have the equipment - in order to have a head on fight with the Marines, or with the British, who are also in that province. So what they will do is put down a lot of roadside bombs and use suicide bombers, as well as ambushes, to try and fight the Western forces that are there. The other thing that is likely to happen, and we've seen evidence of this in the past, is that the Taliban will move into neighboring provinces. They don't like to do this direct engagement. And, so they'll go into other areas where there are not as many Western forces. In the case of Helmand, they might go westward to provinces like Farah, where they've seen in the past, or they may move east into the Kandahar, or they may move into neighboring Nimroz, those sorts of places, to see if they can wait out the American approach.
MONTAGNE: Soraya, one major goal of this campaign in Southern Afghanistan is to get that area under control by the August 20th presidential elections - and that's a particularly important goal.
NELSON: Well, as you noted, those elections are very important, they are coming up and military leaders of the Western forces have made it clear that they want to bring enough security so that people can actually go out and vote. There's also a symbolic victory here, if they are able to show that people can go and cast ballots in what is known as the Taliban stronghold in this conflict, that would be something that will be really powerful - a very powerful statement. The Taliban have said they will disrupt these elections however, so I don't think this is going to be easy going.
MONTAGNE: Now as I mentioned the British have been losing troops at a high number - eight were killed, late last week there, in that Helmand area - what was the fallout from those deaths in Great Britain?
NELSSON: Well, the latest polls show that people are surprisingly more supportive of the war, now, than they were in the past. But the feeling is that - in Great Britain, like in many countries that have troops in Afghanistan -public will and public patience is running out with seeing some sort of progress in Afghanistan. There is a saying here, which is quite famous at this point, that basically, the West has the watches and the Taliban have the time. And so it's sort of a waiting game. And there is a danger here, that if there isn't more progress, and if there isn't a way to curb to those sorts of deaths, that the public will push for withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, and not just in Great Britain.
MONTAGNE: Soraya thank you.
NELSON: You're welcome Renee.
MONATAGNE: We've been speaking with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.