Much of Afghanistan Remains a Battle Zone

U.S. and Afghan forces continue to struggle with anti-goverment forces. A drought complicates matters. Rachel Moragee of The Financial Times talks with Scott Simon about the latest developments.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Turning now to Afghanistan, which observed Independence Day last night. In recent months fighting has resurged there as elements of the Taliban have resurfaced there. NATO troops are in command, but with apparently different rules of engagement than the U.S.-led forces.

Defense Department figures now tally the number of the U.S. dead since the 2001 invasion at 266. Three more soldiers of the U.S.-led forces reportedly died today. Rachel Moragee is Afghanistan correspondent for the Financial Times and joins us from Kabul. Thanks for being with us.

RACHEL MORAGEE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Old Taliban or new Taliban?

MORAGEE: A bit of both. I think what we've seen is a movement which had really been battered and bloodied in 2001 reorganizing, refocusing, and certainly drawing new funds from abroad. It looks like there's been a lot of foreign money that's been flowed back in here.

In addition, what we're seeing is more local recruits. There's drug money that's funding the insurgency and there's growing disgust with the government, especially in southern Afghanistan, where people have seen very little of the dividends of peace.

SIMON: Um-hmm. And that enables the Taliban to come in and just appeal as the other apparent force in the country?

MORAGEE: Absolutely. I think they've been able to drum up a lot of new recruits from disgruntled youth. But what we're also seeing is that they've got money to spend. The Afghan National Army are being paid $4 a day when they are on operations. The Taliban are offering their fighters in the south $12 a day, if not more.

SIMON: What about the - what we are told are different rules of combat now that you have a broader NATO force, less than the U.S.-led coalition.

MORAGEE: Well, we have still seen the U.S. in the south taking the initiative. They've led Operation Mountain Thrust, which was a clean-up operation and drive aimed at pushing the Taliban out of their traditional sanctuaries in the south. And they teamed up with British, Canadian and Afghan forces to do this.

It's the biggest offensive, with 10,000 troops, that we've seen anywhere in Afghanistan since 2001.

SIMON: Are things different in the north? For example, you were at Independence Day ceremonies in Kabul last night. We often hear that the capital at least has been secured. Is that true?

MORAGEE: I think since the riots in May there's been a growing sense that the government's control, even of the capital, is somewhat tenuous. And I just got back from Mazar and Shirazan(ph) in the north, where we're seeing greater banditry, more lawlessness, more attacks on aid workers and more factional fighting.

Troops loyal to General Dawston(ph), who is one of the members of the Northern Alliance - he's since been marginalized - clashed in heavy factional fighting in Faryad last week, and NATO forces had to intervene.

So there's a growing sense of instability around the country. It's not just the south. And there's a danger that perhaps the Afghan government and international forces are going to focus only on the southern provinces and miss growing problems in other parts of Afghanistan.

SIMON: I'm told, for example, there's a drought in the north, which the government would need to address and which demands resources.

MORAGEE: The drought is going to be a severe problem. It's going to fuel instability. We're already seeing thousands of people on the move because they can't feed their livestock, they can't water their livestock. And it's going to cause a slowdown in the economy, which, again, is going to make things more difficult for the government to shore up its support.

What I think we've seen over the last few months is promise fatigue. People feel that all the things they thought were going to happen five years just haven't come to fruition and the drought will complicate that further.

SIMON: Rachel Moragee, Afghanistan correspondent for the Financial Times, thanks very much.

MORAGEE: Thanks very much, Scott.

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