Violence Increases In Afghanistan

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Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Friday, scores of Afghan citizens died in a military operation by American and Afghan troops in the Western part of the country.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Violence in Afghanistan has escalated to levels not seen since the U.S.-led invasion seven years ago. Yesterday, scores of people died when coalition and Afghan forces launched an air strike and raid on what they said was an insurgent stronghold.

But witnesses said the victims were residents of a small village holding a memorial service for a militia commander. President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying at least 76 civilians died. Military officials contradicted that and said most of the dead were insurgents.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the capital of Kabul, and I asked her exactly what we know about yesterday's attack.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, we certainly know that the numbers are very confusing. As you mentioned, the American military officials as well as Afghan defense officials are saying that most of those killed were insurgents. But what we're hearing on the other side, and this includes official government sources like the Afghan interior ministry.

They're reporting that 76 civilians minimum were in fact killed in this operation. And that drew condemnation pretty quickly from the Afghan president. He's very angry with Western forces. He says they should've coordinated with local officials, and he feels there's just too much of this that's going on in Afghanistan.

LYDEN: So, there were protests afterward as there had been before?

NELSON: Actually, the residents of this particular village - it's a small village called Azizabad and it's outside of Herat in western Afghanistan. About 100 to 200 of them went to the road, the main road - that goes between Herat and Kandahar. So, basically connecting western to southern Afghanistan.

And they blocked it; they would not let traffic through. This apparently ended up causing conflict with Afghan soldiers who opened fire. Apparently two or three people were wounded. And then what happened was that when the police went to the village to try and bring food and supplies to help people who were in need there, they were stoned and were driven away.

And initially the villagers wouldn't even allow investigators to come in to actually find out what happened. Now, slowly they seem to be letting people in because they want to show that in fact it was civilians were killed and not insurgents, as the military claims.

LYDEN: As we mentioned, this has been an escalation and quite a week. Earlier in the week, on Monday, ten French soldiers were killed just a few miles outside of Kabul itself. Is there a sense of impending siege and anxiety in the capital?

NELSON: Absolutely. There's a real feeling that NATO and the Afghan government don't really control things in the countryside anymore. And the Taliban have also learned that there is a lot to be gained for doing these sorts of attacks in the capital or close to the capital - that not only does it create fear or anxiety and uncertainty, but it also gets a lot of headlines around the world.

LYDEN: Soraya, what are Western military officials saying, and have you been able to talk to any Western diplomats about the strength of the insurgency?

NELSON: NATO officials told me not too long ago that there was an increase of about 40 percent in terms of the number of attacks that were coming across the border. They blame that on the fact that Pakistani military officials are not doing as much as perhaps they could and they feel that the government in Pakistan is trying to cut deals with the Taliban - or there is this sense. And as a result they're sort of coming across the border more openly than they have in the past.

LYDEN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks very much for joining us, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Jacki.

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