Fighting in Afghanistan Claims Canadian Soldier

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Intense combat with Taliban fighters in Afghanistan left many dead, including a female Canadian soldier. One battle took place in the Helmand province following a police raid. The other fight took place 15 miles west of Kandahar, in which the Canadian soldier was killed. Michele Norris talks with Jim Farrell, reporter with the CanWest News Service, embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There's been an upsurge in violence throughout Afghanistan, where remnants of the Taliban regime are waging a series of bloody battles with local police and coalition forces. It's some of the heaviest fighting the country has seen since U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001. It's reported that as many as 100 people may have been killed in the recent fighting, including dozens of rebels, a female Canadian soldier and a U.S. anti-narcotics advisor.

Jim Farrell is a reporter with the CanWest News Service. He's embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. He joins us now by cell phone from Kandahar. Jim, can you tell us what's been happening in this series of battles and where all this has been taking place?

Mr. JIM FARRELL (CanWest News Service): With the increasing departure of the Americans and native troops moving in, all of the various elements that are opposing them are all starting gathering together. We have Taliban holdouts, we have new Taliban recruits coming in from Pakistan, we have the drug lords who're in with the opium poppy business and they're getting into an alliance with the traditional war lords up in the mountains, all of them trying to crush an attempt to bring increased power from the central government and all of them trying to drive out the western invaders.

NORRIS: And these skirmishes. Tell us about these battles.

Mr. FARRELL: Well the most recent one was yesterday, just about 24 kilometers west of the city of Kandahar. It's off in an opium poppy growing district. It's virtually the home territory of Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, and what happened was approximately perhaps as many as a couple of hundred Taliban started gathering in the villages out there. The coalition went after them, aiding the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

It became a pitched battle and allegedly a couple of dozen Taliban were killed, perhaps half a dozen Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police were wounded and for the very first time a Canadian female combatant, that is, she was an artillery officer, was killed. Further off to the west in (unintelligible) Province an even larger battle involving British troops against the insurgents, so if you take those two battles together you're talking possibly as many as 100 dead in a period of 24 hours.

NORRIS: Does this violence point to the government's limited authority in Afghanistan? They have little control over the remote provinces so the rebels, as I understand it, have been able to set up camps where they're recruiting and training new fighters.

Mr. FARRELL: Well if you go back historically, my very first trip to this country was back in 1970. That was some 36 years ago. The central government even back in those days didn't really have very much authority in the mountainous areas of the country, in the far desert areas of the country. It was pretty well a hands-off policy back in those days and now, with the central government trying to cement its authority off in the tribal areas of the country, it's once again not working out very well.

NORRIS: For the coalition forces, what's the military strategy for dealing with this?

Mr. FARRELL: The military strategy is to train the Afghan National Army and train the Afghan National Police, to encourage the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in taking the leading role in establishing authority in the outlying areas. In some cases the coalition, for example the British and the Canadians, are going into those outlying areas first, setting up compounds, and then try to bring Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police in and settle them in.

There's a downside to that though, which is the war on drugs. A lot of these villages are learning that when the coalition arrives, the next people to come in are the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Police bring in the drug eradication team and the local farmers lose their poppy fields. So you've got that complication, too.

NORRIS: Jim Farrell, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. FARRELL: Thanks very much, Michele.

NORRIS: Jim Farrell is a reporter with the CanWest News Service. He's embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan. He joined us from Kandahar.

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