Clashes Increase Ahead of Afghan Elections
SCOTT SIMON, host:
While Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary elections next month, it's also dealing with escalating violence. The US military says 16 suspected Taliban were killed in four different conflicts just this week. Joining us now in our studio is Gary Anderson, a retired US Marine colonel. Mr. Anderson is just back from Afghanistan where he was working on a government contract.
Thank you very much for being with us.
Colonel GARY ANDERSON (Retired; US Marines): Thanks very much, Scott.
SIMON: The US casualty rate in Afghanistan has been the worst this year since the overthrow of the Taliban. What do you think's going on?
Col. ANDERSON: I think it's been a little bit worse simply because we've got the run-up to the elections, and the Taliban have pretty much admitted that they can't disrupt the elections, and I don't think they're going to try, but I think they are going to try to grab headlines by--at least in their own words--trying to kill as many Americans as they can in the run-up to the election.
SIMON: Does it make Afghans, with whom you know and worked with and become familiar with over the past few years, doubt the permanence of change that's taken place since 2002?
Col. ANDERSON: The impression I get from talking to Afghans both here and in the country has been that they're pretty positive about the future. They're not giddily optimistic, but I think they're realistically positive. They generally will tell you that things are better today than they were yesterday, and they'll be better tomorrow than they were today.
SIMON: What do you see are the problems in holding elections coming up this fall? Violence certainly would be one of them.
Col. ANDERSON: No, I think violence is going to be less of a problem than the overall control of the areas in the outer regions.
SIMON: Outside of Kabul.
Col. ANDERSON: Outside of Kabul, particularly in the poppy growing regions. The problem in a lot of cases is what some of the Americans call white areas. They're areas that--where there isn't any real government control, not even perhaps any Taliban control. There's no control. You know, it's really hard to do away with the poppy production because you've got to come up with a substitute. You can't put defoliant on the poppies or you've already made new insurgents because they have nothing else to grow.
SIMON: An impression that I always try to keep in mind when I think of Afghanistan is, let's say, from Kabul to some other area of the country, might be no farther than New York to, let's say, Philadelphia. But New York and Philadelphia, all jokes aside, are not filled with impassable, treacherous mountains and terrain that really succeeds in isolating pockets of the country from each other.
Col. ANDERSON: And I think that's been the way that the Afghans pretty much run things in the past. They have generally been a fairly decentralized society, but there always has been some sort of a sense of nationhood. And I think the Russian invasion hurried that along. There was a sense of resistance and so forth that built up...
SIMON: Resistance to Russian occupation...
Col. ANDERSON: ...and I think that did help the nationalism a little bit.
SIMON: Are you in any way concerned, Colonel Anderson, that the United States has lost focus on Afghanistan?
Col. ANDERSON: No, I don't think so. When you get into the country, I get a sense that there's a good sense of direction. One of the good things that's happened is NATO seems to have seriously bellied up to the bar as far as taking over the mission or the primary mission, eventually. They're not going to do it fast. NATO doesn't so anything real quickly. But I--there seems to be a general--a genuine sense of commitment that they're going to try to do that.
SIMON: Colonel Anderson, thanks very much.
Col. ANDERSON: Thank you very much, sir.
SIMON: Retired US Marine Colonel Gary Anderson, who's just back from Afghanistan.