Hunt for Taliban Has Intensified, Commander Says

Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin is commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan. He says that intensified fighting in the south of the country is the result of combined forces — including Afghan fighters and police — taking the fight to the remote areas where the Taliban have been entrenched.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

There were more bombings in Afghanistan today as the Taliban continued a wave of attacks against NATO and Afghan government forces. In Kandahar, a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed four Canadian soldiers. That just a day after NATO said that the part of the city where the attack took place was free of Taliban fighters.

In the capital, Kabul, four Afghan policemen were killed by a suicide car bomber. Major General Robert Durbin is commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan. His forces are responsible for manning, equipping and training the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. Welcome to the program, General Durbin.

Major General ROBERT DURBIN (Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan): Well, thank you very much. Glad to be here.

SIEGEL: I'd like you to answer this question. For Americans who are now reading about intensified fighting in southern Afghanistan against a resurgent Taliban, for Americans who thought that the U.S. had defeated the Taliban before the war in Iraq had began, how do you explain to them the resilience of Taliban forces in Afghanistan?

General DURBIN: I think the best way to explain it to the fellow Americans is to go back to 2001. Prior to the invasion, 90 percent of Afghanistan, which is larger than the state of Texas, was a sanctuary for the terrorists who attacked our nation. What you're seeing now is the growth of the Afghan national army combined with the growth of the Afghan national police, where the fight is being taken to the Taliban into the most remote regions that still remain as sanctuaries in 2006.

SIEGEL: So you're saying the Taliban have been there all along. Now it's the Afghan forces who are able to mount an offensive in those parts of the country.

General DURBIN: I would tell you that it's the combined efforts of the international forces that are here with sufficient Afghan forces that are allowing us to go into the more remote regions and start to extend the presence of the governments of Afghanistan through their army and their police force.

SIEGEL: U.S. and coalition forces speak nowadays of building a new Afghan army numbering 70,000 troops. How many reliable Afghan troops are there today, reliable in the sense that you can count on them to be loyal to the government in Kabul, not to a local warlord?

General DURBIN: We have 30,000 Afghan national army soldiers and then you have another 5,000 that are in the training pipeline. And the important aspect is that it is an ethnically balanced army. When you speak to those soldiers, they talk about being a Afghan national army soldier, not the fact that there are Tajik or Pashtun or Uzbek.

SIEGEL: Just want to ask you one last thing. There's an article on the op-ed page of today's New York Times by a former advisor to NATO in Afghanistan, Greg Mills, who writes this, and I quote, "If the past five years of increasingly violent fighting in Afghanistan have proved anything, it is this. The Taliban and their allies cannot be beaten by military means alone. Perhaps then the moment has come to talk to the Taliban and other insurgents."

Do you agree with the premise that what you've learned from five years there is that the Taliban and their allies cannot be beaten by military means alone?

General DURBIN: I would agree 100 percent that winning in Afghanistan cannot be done without the military. And what we have is a combined affect of what we call kinetic and non-kinetics effects. As military, kinetic effects are successful and security is established in each of the districts and the provinces, followed by reconstruction and economic developed.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Kinetic and non-kinetic, these are new terms to many of us. But roughly they would translate to military combat operations on the one hand and then what used to be called nation building on the other hand.

General DURBIN: That is correct. Synchronizing and combining those effects is exactly the equation for success. And that's exactly how we are approaching all of our campaign and operation here in Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: But I'll ask you one last time to address that same American I asked you about at the beginning of the interview. What do you say to the American listener who says I thought that's what we were doing ever since late 2001, that helping put Afghanistan back together and reestablish its economy and civil society. That's been part of the mission from the start.

General DURBIN: I would tell the American listeners that we have done a very good job of setting the conditions. I believe that now we have in fact done exactly the right thing to have the Afghan national security forces begin to take the lead. That the government of Afghanistan and Afghans will be the ones who establish security and success and prosperity for the future.

SIEGEL: That's Major General Robert Durbin, commander of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan. General Durbin, thank you very much for talking with us today.

General DURBIN: Thank you very much.

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