The Scene on the Ground in Afghanistan

Some see the attack outside Bagram airbase as evidence of a substantive return of Taliban fighters to Afghanistan. Michele Norris talks with Carlotta Gall of The New York Times from Islamabad about the possibility of a resurgence by the Taliban, as well as who supports them.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For another assessment of the Taliban's activities in Afghanistan, we turn to Carlotta Gall. She covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for the New York Times.

When I spoke with her from Islamabad, I asked her about today's attack and what it says about the Taliban's activities in areas such as Kabul, where she says they don't have much popular support.

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (Correspondent, New York Times): I think it show us that they're certainly trying to get through anywhere they can. And we have had one or two incidents in this area before, but it's very pro-northern alliance, which is very anti-Taliban, this area have suffered a lot under the Taliban, so there's not popular support. But people can flip to in order to live. If they don't stick out and look different, and possibly, you know, money works Afghanistan's still a very poor country.

And so, perhaps, if you play the right people, you can still move around. Certainly, they have cleared up one bombing shells from land area before, so in recent moments. So there is an awareness that even in these areas, the Taliban is trying to work.

NORRIS: We've heard for some months now about the resurgent Taliban. Is it -their influence now felt more broadly throughout the country?

Ms. GALL: Oh definitely. I mean, especially since last year, there's been a very big spread. And what is perhaps mentioned less but is equally important, is that another former Mujahadeen leader, Gubajin Hakmatia(ph), who is never before allied with the Taliban, but seems to be now, and he had always a very broad base of support throughout the country.

And if he is managing to run cells, he could create problems up in the north, and in the center of Afghanistan. And if he is joining up with the Taliban that inevitably will extend their footprint. But they are very successful in spreading the terror which is just - activities like bomb blasts, which could show their presence further a field from last year - so across the south and the southeast and occasionally into the center and into Kabul itself.

NORRIS: Carlotta, is it becoming clear where the Taliban is drawing its manpower? You're reporting has found that at least some of these suicide attacks can be traced to men who were recruited, not in Afghanistan, but actually in Pakistan.

Ms. GALL: Yes. And we've actually been to Pakistani villages where families will acknowledge that their sons died as suicide attackers in Afghanistan. So they're roping in Pakistanis villagers, too - from the band along the border of Pashtun, so the ethnic group is the same but very different people being locked in to the fight.

But I think also you have to acknowledge that in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan, they are managing to recruit locally as well - so these ordinary villages who would be just farmers or shepherds are being drawn in for various reasons. They're simple people. They're very religious. They believe jihad is a duty - so they'll join up.

NORRIS: We hear U.S. military officials talk repeatedly about a so-called spring offensive, trying to get ahead of the period when the snow would melt in the mountains and it would be a little easier for the Taliban to move about. Is the U.S. now moving ahead of that calendar, moving even ahead of the spring offensive?

Ms. GALL: They have been trying to. We are well aware that they have been operating in areas - often places that journalists can't go, so sometimes it's unreported or just report start filtering out, sometime later - but they clearly are acting in some of the mountainous areas of southern Afghanistan, especially in Helmand province, where it's already warm.

We hear of air strikes on certain commanders and NATO and Americans are saying we're trying to hit out the heads of certain groups to try and defeat the Taliban and lose the leadership. So in a way that is already the spring offensive working. NATO is being very proactive and going ahead and trying to undercut the Taliban before it actually gets going.

NORRIS: Carlotta Gall, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. GALL: Thank you.

NORRIS: Carlotta Gall is a correspondent for The New York Times, based in Afghanistan.

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