Afghan Fighting Deadliest Since Taliban Ouster

Fierce battles have been raging in Afghanistan recently, making it the country's deadliest summer since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Hundreds of Afghans and scores of soldiers from U.S.-led forces have died.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Afghanistan, where more than 70 members of the Taliban have been killed. Police say they died in a battle with NATO and Afghan government forces in the southern province of Kandahar. It's been the deadliest summer in Afghanistan since U.S. forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

Here's NPR's JJ Sutherland.

(Soundbite of sirens)

JJ SUTHERLAND reporting:

The warning comes during dinner. The coalition soldiers at Kandahar Airfield scramble out of their dining hall, throw on their body armor, and grab their weapons as they rush to concrete bunkers set up across the sprawling base. It's almost routine. Taliban rocket attacks come regularly, although they usually do little damage. It seems the motive is more to rattle the soldiers than to kill them.

It's a remind that despite tens of thousands of foreign troops spread out across Afghanistan, the Taliban are undeterred in their fight and continue to stream across the border from Pakistan.

Major MIKE MCGURDY(ph) (Camp Apache, Afghanistan): There's reinforcements in the Taliban coming up. That's why Karni(ph) is so important. Because they come up through Shajui(ph), go through Karni, and come up into here. And they see Karni is pretty vulnerable...

SUTHERLAND: Major Mike McGurdy stands in front of map of the southeastern province of Zabul, which borders Pakistan. He's based at Camp Apache(ph), just outside the provincial capital.

He points out the various coalition and Afghan army bases scattered throughout the area. The bases are small, sometimes only with a couple of dozen troops, and they're hit regularly by Taliban reinforcements crossing Zabul to support their brethren in neighboring provinces. Major McGurdy says it's obvious where the reinforcements are coming from.

Maj. MCGURDY: They're coming right out of Pakistan. And, of course, there's a whole bunch of them who are here already, who - all they've got to do is the cells comes up from Pakistan and they join them. And they also go into the villages and they say, you cough us up one or two guys or there's going to be problems. So that's where they're getting all their reinforcements from. And in my opinion, you can't kill enough of them to make a difference. You've got to get...

SUTHERLAND: The resurgence of the Taliban this summer seems to have taken nearly everyone by surprise.

Joanna Nathan is an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.

Ms. JOANNA NATHAN (Analyst, International Crisis Group): I think everybody has been surprised by the ferocity of it. I don't think anybody should be surprised by the fact they're still there. I think for far too long each sort of winter we get this propaganda - the Taliban's dead, the Taliban's dead.

You know, and winter activity always drops down. That's when the passes to Pakistan are snowed in. And I just think this propaganda has been put out too much that - no, that they never were sort of crushed. And as long as there is a sanctuary in Pakistan and the international community are not more vocal about it, there will be.

SUTHERLAND: General Rahmatullah Raufi commands the 205th Corps of the Afghanistan National Army. His troops do much of the fighting in southern Afghanistan. He expands on Nathan's analysis.

General RAHMATULLAH RAUFI (Afghan National Army): (Through translator) One of the causes is that in the winter the Taliban were asleep. They were getting ready for the summer. They train them in the winter - some in Pakistan, some in Afghanistan. In the schools and the villages in Pakistan - right now the schools have holiday and all the students come and connect with the Taliban and are fighting against the government.

SUTHERLAND: Summer vacation for the Taliban based in Pakistan turns into a bloodbath in Afghanistan.

The anger at Pakistan is so prevalent among Afghan officials that they are no longer careful about what they say. They are more than willing to blame Pakistan publicly.

Governor DELBAR ARMAN (Governor, Zabol Province, Afghanistan): It's very clear. It's not - I think you don't need to ask me. Everybody - anyone in the world know the difficulties coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

SUTHERLAND: Delbar Arman is the governor of Zabol province. He's a gray-bearded man who wears the traditional flowing garb of the Afghans. He blames all of Afghanistan's problems - going back decades - on foreign interference.

Gov. ARMAN: The same thing is going in Iraq right now that is, you know, growing from Pakistan that they are supporting Taliban and they are working with them. They have two pieces. One piece that says, okay, we are against tourism. The second piece is they are sending Taliban to our country.

SUTHERLAND: The spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign ministry is Tasnim Aslam. She says the Afghan government and the coalition forces are trying to blame Pakistan for their own failings.

Ms. TASNIM ASLAM (Spokesperson, Pakistani Foreign Ministry): To externalize the problem in Afghanistan is not going to work. We have acted whenever some information was provided to us. We can't act an (unintelligible) and this is not entirely our responsibility. The responsibility also lies on those U.S. commanders who are sitting there and passing judgment. What are they doing? They have been there for five years. What have they done? What have they achieved?

SUTHERLAND: James Dobbins was the first U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan after 9/11. He is now the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation.

He says the negative reasons for the resurgence of the Taliban include years of U.S. and Afghan failures that have undercut potential progress in Afghanistan. But…

Mr. JAMES DOBBINS (Former Special Envoy to Afghanistan): The positive reasons are all centered in Pakistan and have to do with the radicalism of the population, the failure of the government to secure control over its border provinces, the dependency of the government on radical Muslim parties and the connivances of elements of the Pakistani government with a resurgent Taliban. Those are the positive causes. That's why the insurgency exists.

SUTHERLAND: Solving the problem is difficult, Dobbins adds. It is not something that can be addressed militarily. But something must be done, he warns, because as a result of the radicalization of Pakistan's population, the country has become the central front in the war on terror - not just in Afghanistan, but globally.

JJ Sutherland, NPR News.

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