RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're looking, this morning, at two dimensions of the war in Afghanistan. One is the politics of the war; that story stretches from Kabul to Washington as President Obama reviews his strategy. And we'll hear more on that in a moment from NPR's Cokie Roberts.
MONTAGNE: Another dimension is the fighting itself. Over the weekend, insurgents struck two remote outposts and their attack killed eight U.S. soldiers. The battle highlights the challenge of defending bases spread widely across Afghanistan's rough terrain.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The attack occurred Saturday in the mountainous and heavily forested province of Nuristan which borders Pakistan. Shortly after the pre dawn call to prayer, hundreds of militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades poured out of the village and an area mosque. Their targets were two nearby American outposts, one on top of a hill and the other on the slope. U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Shanks is a spokesman in Kabul for the coalition forces here.
Colonel WAYNE SHANKS (Spokesman For Coalition Forces, Kabul): Our forces that were there engaged them and tried to prevent their assault as much as they possibly could. We used attack helicopters, close air support, mortars — all the weapons systems they had available to them and this conflict continued throughout most of the day.
NELSON: In the end, the American and Afghan troops were able to repel the attackers. Nuristan's governor, Jamaludin Badar, says in addition to the American and Afghan casualties, 27 militants were killed. Badar says another 11 Afghan policemen were kidnapped by the fleeing militants as were two employees of a local radio station. Their fate remains unknown. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Badar also blamed the Taliban, but NATO officials say the attackers were part of tribal militias with loose links to a variety of groups, including that of Sirajudin Haqqani, an al-Qaida-linked militant.
Governor JAMALUDIN BADAR (Nuristan, Afghanistan): (Foreign Language Spoken)
NELSON: Reached by phone, Governor Badar says insurgents are pouring across the border into Nuristan, especially since Pakistani forces cleared them out of much of the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan earlier this year. He says that Nuristan, with its jagged peaks and thick forests, is a perfect haven for militants. To bolster their ranks, they recruit restless and underemployed Nuristani youth. Badar says most Nuristanis don't support the militants, but others say Nuristanis have never been happy with the American military or Afghan government presence either. Residents here, revel in their isolation. They are of a different ethnic background and use different languages than other Afghans.
American soldiers might never have been deployed to this area were it not for the vast trail network insurgents use to move in and out from al-Qaida and Taliban sanctuaries in the border region. But, there have never been enough U.S. troops in Nuristan to deal with the militants. A raid 15 months earlier in the village of Wanat killed nine American soldiers and wounded more than two dozen more. That attack, which is still being investigated, helped drive a reassessment of the strategy of the war.
The new strategy calls for U.S. troops to pull out of these remote areas and concentrate, instead, around Afghanistan's population centers. Colonel Shanks, the coalition spokesman, says the weekend attack won't change plans to move U.S. troops. He wouldn't say when the troops will be moved, but that community leaders are aware of the plans.
Col. SHANKS: We had gone through the community and explained the process of the repositioning throughout the community in the whole area that's up there.
NELSON: He adds that the shift doesn't mean NATO won't be keeping an eye on the region, where Afghan soldiers and policemen will continue to be posted.
Col. SHANKS: Just because that you don't have a particular force in any particular area, doesn't mean you can't provide security for that area.
NELSON: But Badar fears Afghan security forces can't handle Nuristan without a Western presence.
Gov. BADAR: (Foreign Language Spoken)
NELSON: He says the Afghan forces don't have enough experience or training to stop the militants or protect the porous border Nuristan shares with Pakistan.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.