Afghan Fighting Flares as Taliban Revives

Afghanistan is experiencing the worst fighting since the fall of the Taliban. Barnett Rubin, director of studies at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, tells Debbie Elliott abut the growing insurgency in the south.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has appointed a new senior advisor. He is Fahim Khan(ph), a controversial former war lord President Karzai had removed from his government earlier.

Analysts say the president is reaching out to him again to counter the growing Taliban insurgency in the country's south. In the past week, hundreds of people have been reported killed in battles and bombings. It's the worst fighting since the fall of the Taliban.

Yesterday I spoke with Afghan expert Barnett Rubin. He's director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation.

Mr. Rubin, you've recently written a report for the Council on Foreign Relations on the situation in Afghanistan. The Defense Department does admit that the insurgency there is growing and becoming more effective, and says that's in response to more aggressive tactics by U.S. led coalition forces.

Mr. BARNETT RUBIN (Director, New York University's Center on International Cooperation): I don't think that's an accurate description of what's happening. I think, first of all, it's very natural that over four years after their regime was destroyed, the Taliban have regrouped and reorganized. They have been able to do that pretty much unopposed in Pakistan where, while the military regime has gone after Al Qaida, it has not really gone after the Taliban.

And finally, they are actually benefiting from and learning from the insurgency in Iraq and have adopted techniques that were adopted there.

ELLIOTT: Now, are these the remnants of the Taliban, or are they other militias who simply don't support the Afghanistan government?

Mr. RUBIN: I think it's a mix, but so far as the Taliban are concerned, I wouldn't say they're remnants. That is, the people who are fighting today are not just the leftovers of the people they had four years ago. The Taliban networks in Pakistan are still intact. The Madrisos(ph) where both over a million Afghan refugees sent some of their sons to be educated plus where Pakistanis are also educated and recruited to fight in Afghanistan are still operating.

In addition, you do have some reaction in the parts of Afghanistan where the U.S. troops are most active against some of the activities there, such as house searches, bombings, and so on, which have led people to join the fighting out of vengeance.

Some Taliban commanders that have been interviewed on some of Afghanistan's exciting new private TV channels have said that they're fighting of the corruption of the government.

So I think it's a mix. It's not a totally coordinated movement.

ELLIOTT: You say that the insurgents in Afghanistan are taking some of the same techniques that are being used in Iraq. Can you talk about what those techniques are?

Mr. RUBIN: I think there are two techniques primarily. One is suicide bombing, and as you know, Afghanistan has been at war now for almost 30 years, and yet, before the last two years, there were hardly any suicide bombings. During the entire Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union there wasn't a single suicide bombing that I ever heard of. In the past several months there have been dozens and dozens of them, so this is something new.

Second is the used of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that are used for attacking convoys.

Now, besides these tactical innovations, we have seen they have two main kinds of targets in both Iraq and Afghanistan now. One is the military allies of the United States whom they perceive as being less committed. And the second is on new recruits to the security forces in order to try to weaken the regime.

ELLIOTT: In your report, Mr. Rubin, you conclude that Afghanistan has gotten inadequate resources in troops and money from the international community. What do you think needs to happen there?

Mr. RUBIN: The troops that are there need to focus much more on providing security to the Afghan government and the Afghan people. That is happened to some extent in the past two years but it came quite late. During the first couple of years we really subcontracted most of that to Afghan warlords who most Afghans saw as insecurity forces rather than security forces.

Second, people really need to see economic benefits. I think one thing that's very often neglected about Afghanistan is it's about the fifth poorest country in the world. The people there were expecting that when the United States came in, it would build roads, bridges, schools. Initially, we didn't commit any new money for reconstruction. Finally, we started to do that but we implement our reconstruction programs by contracting with U.S. companies and NGOs, and in a way they see that aid program as continuing to undermine their own government and their own authorities because we don't put the money through their national mechanisms.

ELLIOTT: Barnett Rubin, a scholar at New York University, has advised the United Nations on Afghanistan.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. RUBIN: Thank you.

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