Afghan Violence Shows Little Sign of Easing

Five years after the ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains wracked by violence. More than 3,000 people have died in fighting this year. NATO forces are trying to establish a "security blanket" to permit reconstruction.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. Coming up, trying to create hiking trails in a war zone. But first, it's been another violent week in Afghanistan. International forces commanded by NATO fought several large battles against Taliban soldiers in the southern part of the country. Military officials estimate more than 100 Taliban were killed. But Afghan security forces and their foreign allies also continue to suffer casualties in what has become the bloodiest year of the Taliban insurgency. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Kabul.

IVAN WATSON: Major Luke Knittig, a spokesman for the International Forces in Afghanistan, known as ISAF, began his weekly press conference with grim news.

Major LUKE KNITTIG (ISAF): This week, five ISAF soldiers have been killed and thirteen wounded fighting for the future of Afghanistan.

WATSON: In the southern part of the country last weekend, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier and wounded eight more American troops, as well as a three-man TV crew and an Afghan translator. Nearby, on that same day, military spokesmen estimate their troops killed at least 55 Taliban fighters. On Monday, a foreign soldier was killed in another southern Afghan province during a long battle that NATO says left at least another 50 Taliban fighters dead. The next day, a roadside bomb killed three American soldiers on patrol in eastern Afghanistan, while a suicide bomber wounded two more NATO troops south of Kabul. Another suicide bomber struck a NATO convoy in Kandahar on Wednesday, wounding two. The fighting coincided with the start of a nationwide security operation announced by Brigadier General Nick Pope.

Brigadier General NICK POPE (NATO): By providing a security blanket, if you like, the intention is to set the conditions for reconstruction and development initiatives, thereby providing tangible and demonstrable signs of a better future for the population.

WATSON: So far, more than 3,000 people have been killed in fighting this year in Afghanistan, including around 150 foreign soldiers. In recent months, the Taliban has sent waves of suicide bombers around the country. And its leaders have threatened more suicide attacks until the U.S. and its European allies abandon Afghanistan.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

WATSON: In this Taliban propaganda video, a Taliban commander named Didu La(ph) sits on the floor in front of a map of Afghanistan and methodically notes down the names of young Afghan men who are volunteering to become suicide bombers.

Mr. DIDU LU (Taliban Commander): (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: The Taliban insurgency has made much of southern and eastern Afghanistan a no-go zone, as fighters have burned schools, assassinated Afghan government officials, and periodically overrun Afghan police stations. Afghan government officials continue to accuse neighboring Pakistan of providing the insurgents a safe haven across the border. This week, Pakistani tribesmen organized furious protests after a Pakistani air strike blew apart a religious school in a border town, killing around 80 suspected pro-Taliban militants. Afghan defense ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi hailed the air strike.

Mr. ZAHIR AZIMI (Afghan Defense Ministry): (Through translator) It gave us - it has given success to us and I believe that the late pressures of the international community led Pakistan to conduct that raid.

WATSON: But NATO forces deployed here in Afghanistan have also attracted criticism from both Afghan politicians and human rights activists for causing high numbers of civilian casualties during their operations. Major Luke Knittig announced this week NATO would pay compensation to the families of at least 12 civilians killed during a recent clash with the Taliban.

Maj. KNITTIG: We acknowledge our deep regret is not enough. Remedial action is required, and we are taking it.

WATSON: Yesterday kidnappers released an Italian photographer 23 days after taking him hostage in southern Afghanistan. Italian officials say the kidnappers may have been a criminal gang tied to the Taliban. Rome insists no ransom was paid for the photographer's release. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.

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