New Assault Under Way in Afghanistan
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION. Scott Simon is back on jury duty. I'm John Ydstie.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is mounting the largest offensive against the Taliban since they overthrew the regime in 2001. Coalition officials are reporting today that scores of Taliban fighters have been killed. At least two members of the coalition have also died.
American, British, Canadian and Afghan forces are trying to improve security in that country's southern and eastern provinces near the border with Pakistan.
Rachel Moragee is Afghanistan correspondent for the Financial Times. She joins us by phone from Kabul. Thanks very much for being with us.
Ms. RACHEL MORAGEE (Financial Times): Hi, John.
YDSTIE: This offensive is being called Operation Mountain Thrust. What more do we know about how it's going?
Ms. MORAGEE: Well, it seems the coalition is saying they started it with a bang. They killed over 50 extremists at two Taliban camps in southern Afghanistan in Uruzgan province, which has been the scene of some of the worst fighting and some of the worst clashes with the Taliban in recent months.
Most of those clashes, up until the Saturday operation, have involved Afghan police who've been stock in isolated police stations without the ammo or the guns to really fight back. So this is an attempt to try and help the government regain control of districts, which it has effectively lost at the last six months.
YDSTIE: The campaign comes at a time of what appears to be growing violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the south. You've been there for two years. Can you see evidence of increasing instability or is this just evidence that the Taliban never left?
Ms. MORAGEE: Since I've arrived, there has been a steady increase in violence over the last two years. And I think what has also fueled it, particularly in the south where we've seen some of the worst violence, has been a growing perception that this is a government which has failed to deliver.
For a lot of Afghans who really aren't (unintelligible) and living conditions which are similar to those in the Middle Ages, really, democracy is very much an abstract. What they were hoping to see was, with roads, with power stations, with something tangible that would show that their lives have improved, but things have stayed very much the same. And in fact, security has got worse.
So on balance, a lot of people in southern Afghanistan are asking what has this brought them.
YDSTIE: We've certainly heard reports of waning political support for President Karzai within Afghanistan. Tell us about what you've been able to glean about attitudes towards the Karzai government overall.
Ms. MORAGEE: The hope that really buoyed Karzai up in the beginning (unintelligible) it's a reasonable thing to ask whether anybody else could've done better and whether the expectations of ordinary Afghans were realistic. I think people had unrealistically high hopes.
But on the other hand, what people are seeing is growing levels of corruption, a narco-elite that has benefited, and ordinary people not seeing much real change in their lives.
YDSTIE: Where are Afghans feeling about the prospect of NATO taking over for U.S. forces in the south this summer?
Ms. MORAGEE: There were real fears here that the NATO troops won't be going after the Taliban unless the Talibans fire on them first, which would, of course, give the insurgents the initiative. It's an open question how well NATO will be able to change things. They'll have twice as many troops on the ground as the U.S. coalition did. But they'll be working with an increasingly hostile and disgusted population that hadn't seen the changes that they wanted to see.
YDSTIE: Rachel Moragee is Afghanistan correspondent for the Financial Times. Thanks for being with us.
Ms. MORAGEE: Thank you.