Taliban Making a Comeback in Afghanistan

Afghanistan map i i

The Taliban has gained strength in Kandahar and other southern provinces in Afghanistan. NPR hide caption

itoggle caption NPR
Afghanistan map

The Taliban has gained strength in Kandahar and other southern provinces in Afghanistan.

NPR
A Canadian soldier guards a suspected Taliban militant. i i

A Canadian soldier guards one of 10 suspected Taliban militants captured in a raid on a compound in northern Kandahar, May 10, 2006. The suspects were subsequently handed over to the Afghan National Police. John D. McHugh/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption John D. McHugh/AFP/Getty Images
A Canadian soldier guards a suspected Taliban militant.

A Canadian soldier guards one of 10 suspected Taliban militants captured in a raid on a compound in northern Kandahar, May 10, 2006. The suspects were subsequently handed over to the Afghan National Police.

John D. McHugh/AFP/Getty Images

'Come On, Help Me'

Mohammed Niaz lies in a hospital bed. i i
Ivan Watson, NPR
Mohammed Niaz lies in a hospital bed.
Ivan Watson, NPR

Mohammed Niaz lies in the military hospital at the coalition base outside Kandahar. The 21-year-old interpreter was on patrol with Canadian troops when Taliban fighters ambushed their vehicle. A rocket-propelled grenade pierced Niaz's side of the vehicle, severing one of his feet. Doctors later amputated his other leg.

Scroll down to read more of Niaz's story and those of other victims of the violence in southern Afghanistan.

An Afghan policeman watches a shop and a truck on fire after a suicide car bomb attack. i i

An Afghan policeman watches a shop and a truck on fire after a suicide car bomb attack near a coalition military base used to train Afghan security forces in Kabul, May 21, 2006. Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan policeman watches a shop and a truck on fire after a suicide car bomb attack.

An Afghan policeman watches a shop and a truck on fire after a suicide car bomb attack near a coalition military base used to train Afghan security forces in Kabul, May 21, 2006.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Taliban militants launched new attacks on police posts in southern Afghanistan today. More than four years after the movement's overthrow, the U.S. military acknowledges that the rebels have grown in strength and influence in four southern provinces.

Clashes between the Taliban and allied coalition and Afghan troops have claimed hundreds of lives in the past month. Officers and diplomats are predicting a bloody summer.

The results of the violence can be seen at the main hospital at the coalition airbase outside Kandahar, where most of the casualties are Afghans.

Maj. Allan Case, a National Guardsmen from South Carolina, works as a medical mentor for the U.S.-trained Afghan National Army battalion in Kandahar. Since winter, he has seen a steady stream of Afghan dead and wounded coming in daily from battles and ambushes in the countryside.

He says that for every coalition force member killed, 10 Afghan soldiers are killed, with a similar ratio of wounded.

This is Case's second tour in Afghanistan. He says he is less optimistic about the situation in Afghanistan than he was at the end of his first tour 2004.

"Coming back, the Afghan army has made significant progress, but the war has turned for the worse," Case says.

Francesc Vendrell, the European Union's special envoy to Afghanistan, says the Taliban is stronger in southern Afghanistan than it has been in the past three years. "We have to ask ourselves why and what does it mean?"

"It had been somewhat assumed that Afghanistan was a success, that the mere toppling of the Taliban and the arrival of a person that we trusted like President Karzai was enough to ensure a success," Vendrell says. "That was ... a facile assumption."

The U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Tom Collins, says the Taliban capitalized on the power vacuum in southern Afghanistan left by the weak central government.

"After the fall of the Taliban, there was an expectation that the government would exert its influence quickly, and that hasn't happened," Collins says. "Let's be truthful here. There have been some shortfalls in the government's ability to control the situation down there."

Victims of the Violence

Said Marjan sits beside his sister's hospital bed in Kandahar.

Said Marjan sits beside the hospital bed of his sister, Sherifa, in Kandahar. Sherifa, 8, was shot in the stomach after being caught in crossfire between Taliban fighters and Afghan government forces in their village in southern Afghanistan. Ivan Watson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ivan Watson, NPR

Clashes between the Taliban and allied coalition and Afghan troops have claimed hundreds of lives in the past month. The results of the violence can be seen at the main hospital at the coalition airbase outside Kandahar, where most of the casualties are Afghans.

Sherifa and Said Marjan

Sherifa, 8, was caught in a crossfire several days ago between Taliban fighters and government forces in Volontsaki village. Her brother, Said Marjan, says it wasn't until the next day that she was able to get medical treatment, when coalition helicopters medevaced Sherifa and her cousin, who was shot in the face, to Kandahar Air Field.

"I could see her the whole night I was awake with her," Marjan says while sitting at her bedside. "I could see her she's screaming and moving and she was awake the whole night and she was suffering the whole night."

Sherifa now appears to be in stable condition, though she is clearly in pain and it is difficult for her to breathe. Marjan says the Taliban have been operating around his village for three months because the local government has no presence in the district.

"We don't have any government presence in our village. We have got some national army guys which are very far from us," Marjan says. "Basically our village is kind of walking side, or commute side for Taliban. Because they come from Pakistan and they walk our village and they go to the mountains of Marouf district, and there is nothing. We don't have any clinics there. We only have one doctor."

Marjan says that before this battle, Taliban fighters set fire to the school Sherifa was attending.

Mohammed Niaz

Mohammed Niaz, 21, had been working as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers in Kandahar for a year and a half when he ended up in his first firefight.

The incident took place in the district of Panjwai, less then 20 miles west of Kandahar.

"We were going there for some security reasons, some security patrols. And then Taliban attacked us in Panjwai district," Niaz says. "And then my sergeant told me to sit in the vehicle because of small-arms fire. So when I was in the vehicle, the vehicle got shot by RPG. Just my door. My side, my door."

Niaz managed to squeeze of two rounds from his pistol before the rocket-propelled grenade punctured his side of the Canadian armored vehicle. He says he knew immediately that he had lost one leg. The other leg was later amputated by doctors.

Less then a week after the ambush, Niaz lies in a hospital bed at Kandahar Air Field. His father, a police officer, regularly visits him.

"So all the day, if I didn't have anything else to do, I'm crying," Niaz says.

Niaz is a married and the father of a young girl. He now wants the Canadian government to do more to help him recover from his wounds.

"Actually I want help. Whenever their [soldiers get] hit, they are sending them to Germany or Canada right away. I've been laying here for one week now. Come on! Help me."

Abdul Kayunis

Abdul Kayunis, 26, a soldier in the Afghan National Army, was wounded Sunday when the vehicle his unit was patrolling in hit a roadside bomb.

The explosion broke his leg and both of his wrists. He also suffered bruises to his face.

Kayunis has little respect for his enemies in the Taliban.

"Well, they cannot resist against us, what they do is fight like thieves….They show up in one place and hit us and then run away. So this is how they fight."

Before becoming a soldier, Kayunis was a fighter loyal to a warlord in the highlands of central Afghanistan, with experience battling the Taliban.

More recently, he says he captured a Taliban fighter while patrolling in Zabul province.

"The time that I myself captured one of them, we were coming back from a mission and on the way we saw that one of them was trying to plant a mine on the way," Kayunis says. "And I saw one of them and jumped out of the car and ran after him and put him in the car and brought him to the center of the province."

Five of Kayunis' fellow soldiers have been injured in separate attacks in southeastern Afghanistan. He says his comrades need better equipment to fight this enemy.

"We've got problems with the weapons that we have. We have old weapons," Kayunis says. "Also, we do not have enough machine guns with us. We've got some in each battalion, but that's not enough for this war."

Kayunis has avoided contacting his wife and family to inform them about his injuries. He says he doesn't want to worry them, and he plans to return to duty when he recovers.

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